Growing Each Day: Tishrei

This day is the beginning of Your works, a memoriam for the first day. For it is an ordinance for Israel, a judgment for the God of Jacob (Machzor of Rosh Hashanah).

This day is the beginning of God's works? Rosh Hashanah marks the day on which man was created, which was the sixth and last day of Creation. Rather than being the beginning of the Divine works, it was the end. When man came into being, the earth, the sun, moon, stars, galaxies, rivers, oceans, mountains, vegetation, and all forms of life were already in existence.

The message is quite clear. An artist may spend days and weeks assembling all the materials he needs for his painting, but the actual work does not begin until he touches the brush to the canvas. All that preceded was indeed essential to the work, but was not the work itself.

We are told here that the work of Creation begins with man. Everything else in the universe, from the tiniest sub-atomic particle to the greatest galaxy, is but preparatory to man. Man is thus the essence of the entire universe and the goal of all Creation.

This places an awesome responsibility upon man. He cannot live his life like the sub-human species, because they are merely appurtenances in a universe that makes man's existence possible. As the ultimate purpose of Creation, therefore, man must search for the purpose of his existence and how he can best achieve it, because all else in the universe is the means, whereas he is the end.

Because man is the end of Creation, he is the beginning of God's works.

Today I shall...

try to search for the meaning of my existence, and dedicate myself to finding and fulfilling the purpose for which I was created.

And You open the book of recollections, and it reads on its own, and the seal of each person's hand is therein (Machzor of Rosh Hashanah).

The Baal Shem Tov taught that a person must be extremely cautious not to pass harsh judgment on others. "It is yourself that you are judging," said the Baal Shem Tov.

When the prophet, Nathan, rebuked King David following the Bath-Sheba incident, he related the parable of a wealthy man who owned abundant livestock, and who robbed a poor neighbor of his one and only lamb. David was outraged at this terrible injustice, and in his anger exclaimed, "I swear by God, that man is deserving of death!" Nathan then said, "You are that man!" (II Samuel 12:1-5).

God knows that personal interest makes us oblivious to the significance of our own misdeeds, so He contrives to make us observe in others actions and behavior similar to our own. How we react to our own acts as we see them in others determines how God will judge us. If we are considerate and lenient in our judgment, and give others the benefit of doubt, allowing them the broadest latitude of circumstances that might have caused them to behave improperly, they will judge us with equal leniency. But if we are self-righteous and quick to condemn others, we will be judged with equal severity.

On the Days of Judgment, the books of our deeds are opened, and they "had on their own"; i.e. our actions speak for themselves. "And the seal of each person's hand is therein"; i.e. we have rendered our own judgment on our actions by the way we reacted to similar actions when we observed them in others. God merely carries out the judgments we have made on ourselves.

Today I shall...

try to be considerate when judging other people's behavior, remembering that there may be extenuating circumstances that might account for their actions.

As a father is merciful toward his children, so may You be merciful to us (Selichos).

As children of God, we have the right to plead for mercy, just as we would expect a human father to be kind and compassionate with his errant child. Actions that might elicit stern judgment from strangers do not provoke a similar reaction from one's father. In praying for Divine forgiveness for our misdeeds, we are therefore not asking for the extraordinary, but simply for the natural response of a father toward a child. Even if our actions deserve rebuke, we ask that the discipline should be tempered by paternal compassion.

But if we ask to be treated as children, we must relate to God the way the Torah expects a child to relate to a parent, with respect and reverence. We cannot expect a parent-child relationship to be one-directional.

The Talmud speaks harshly of someone who profanes that which is sacred, going so far as to deny him a share in the eternal world, even though he may have performed many mitzvos (Ethics of the Fathers 3:15). This is because although no one is perfect, and while sins can be forgiven, if one is irreverent toward holiness and lacks the respect for God that should characterize a child-parent relationship, then such a person may forfeit forgiveness. For example, halachic authorities sharply criticize one who converses during the prayer services, for while this is not a Biblical transgression, it indicates disrespect for the Divine Presence.

During these days of penitence, as we recite the prayer, Avinu Malkeinu (our Father, our King), we should give thought to the concept of reverence for our Father.

Today I shall...

try to behave in a manner that befits a child of God.

Remember us for life, O King Who desires life, and inscribe us in the book of life, for Your sake, O living God (Amidah, Ten Days of Penitence).

What is the meaning of for Your sake? How can the extension of life to a person be for the sake of God?

We might read the verse a bit differently. "Inscribe us into the book of a life that is lived for Your sake." In other words, we pray not only for life, but for a quality of life that is meaningful and purposeful, one that will be lived for the greater glory of God.

Some people find life boring, and it is little wonder that such people seek escape from its boredom. Some turn to intoxicating chemicals, and others to a quest for thrills and entertaining pastimes which, while not destructive, have no purpose except an escape.

But why should there be a need to escape? Why should life ever be boring? A person whose goal is to amass great wealth never tires of adding more to his already sizable fortune. If we have the kind of goal in life that allows us to add to it continually, we will never be bored.

Of course, we wish to be inscribed in the book of life, but it should be a life that we wish to be in rather than one that we seek to escape from.

Today I shall...

try to enrich my life by living it according to the Divine will, bringing greater glory to His Name - and therefore greater meaning to my life.

He forgives the sins of His people, and passes them over, one by one ... (Selichos).

The Talmud states that if a person repeats a particular sin, he may be forgiven up to the third time, but not beyond that (Yoma 86b).

Before Yom Kippur, a chassid came to the chassidic master, Rabbi Bunim of Pshis'cha. The master reprimanded him for being remiss in the proper observance of a mitzvah and the man promised that he would be more diligent - but the following year, the same scene was repeated.

When the chassid again asserted that he would mend his ways, the Rabbi invited him to a game of chess. During the game, the Rabbi intentionally made a wrong move and asked permission to be permitted to retract the move. "You know the rule, Rabbi," the chassid said, "once you have removed your hand from the piece, the move is final." Nevertheless, he gave in. Later in the match the same thing happened, and the man said, "I am sorry, Rabbi, but you cannot keep on retracting moves. You must think before you move; once you have done so, it is final."

"Exactly, my son," the Rabbi said, "and if this is so a game, how much more so in the serious business of life."

Just as there cannot be endless retractions in chess, so we must realize that some actions are final. Repeating the same sin after one knows it was wrong indicates an attitude of carelessness.

Today I shall...

try to give serious consideration to my behavior and avoid repeating the mistakes of the past.

And what does teshuvah consist of? [Repentance to the degree] that the One Who knows all that is hidden will testify that he will never again repeat this sin (Maimonides, Laws of Teshuvah 2:2).

"How can this be?" ask the commentaries. "Inasmuch as man always has free choice to do good or evil, to sin or not to sin, how can God testify that a person will never repeat a particular sin? Is this not a repudiation of one's free will?"

The answer to this came to me at a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous, at which the speaker, a man who had been sober for twenty-one years, said, "The man I was drank. The man I was will drink again. But now I am a different man."

A sin does not occur in a vacuum. A person who is devout does not abruptly decide to eat treifah. A sin occurs when a person is in such a state that a particular act is not anathema to him.

Consequently, repentance is not complete if one merely regrets having done wrong. One must ask, "How did this sin ever come about? In what kind of a state was I that permitted me to commit this sin?"

True repentance thus consists of changing one's character to the point where, as the person is now, one can no longer even consider doing the forbidden act. Of course, the person's character may deteriorate - and if it does, he may sin again.

God does not testify that the person will never repeat the sin, but rather that his degree of repentance and correction of his character defects are such that, as long as he maintains his new status, he will not commit that sin.

Today I shall...

try to understand how I came to do those things that I regret having done, and bring myself to a state where such acts will be alien to me.

O, God, create for me a pure heart, and renew within me a just spirit (Psalms 51:12).

In 6 Tishrei we noted that true repentance consists of changing one's character to the point where one is no longer capable of repeating certain acts.

Some people may be frightened by the prospect of the emergence of a new personality. Generally we are most comfortable with the familiar, and the creation of a new personality is an excursion into the unknown. What is this new person going to be like? What kinds of likes and dislikes will he have? Will he still let me do the things I have enjoyed in the past, or will he be so restrictive that he will take all the fun out of living? How will people relate to this new person? Will my friends like him? Will my family accept him?

The anxiety about this unknown entity who may emerge may be so severe that a person may decide to remain just as he is. Even if one's present character is defective, there is at least the comfort of familiarity.

But one must have the courage of one's convictions. All growth carries a risk of discomfort. Newborn infants cry when they leave security of the womb, and "growing pains" are a fact of life.

To avoid such pain by simply not growing should not be an option for a thinking person.

Today I shall...

be courageous enough to discard faulty behavior patterns and allow a better "self" to emerge.

You search one's innermost recesses and You examine one's motivations and the emotions of the heart (Machzor of Yom Kippur).

Rabbi Eliezer of Kozhnitz visited Rabbi Naftali of Ropschitz and, noting that the curtains of the windows were drawn closed, he said, "There is something I do not understand. If you wish people to be able to look in, why do you draw the curtains? If you do not wish people to look in, what purpose is there for the window?"

Rabbi Naftali was stunned by the question. Rabbi Eliezer smiled and said, "I will tell you what the window is for. There may be someone whom you trust and who you know loves you, and you can then open the curtains and let him look in."

To some degree we are all secretive, and we close the curtains of the windows of our hearts and minds. We may have thoughts and feelings that we would not disclose to anyone. However, we can be comfortable that God knows our innermost secrets, because we are certain that He loves us and we can trust Him.

Our verbal expression of character defects adds nothing to God's knowledge of them, but serves to reinforce our own awareness that we can safely confide in God, and that He will help us in our quest to improve our character.

Today I shall...

open my heart and mind to God, sharing with Him all that I think and feel, and ask Him to help me cleanse myself of improper thoughts and feelings.

For the conductor, a psalm of David. When Nathan the Prophet came to him, as he had come to Bath-Sheba ... Cleanse me abundantly from my sin, and purify me from my transgression (Psalms 51:1-4).

In this psalm of contrition, we hear David's heart-rending plea for forgiveness and, indeed, Nathan informed him that God had accepted his prayer and that he was forgiven (II Samuel 12:13). What was it that earned David prompt forgiveness? Rabbi Sholom Shachna of Probisch points to the opening verse of the psalm: "When Nathan the Prophet came to him, as he had come to Bath-Sheba." The depth of David's contrition when the prophet reprimanded him was no less intense than his earlier passion for Bath-Sheba.

During the Ten Days of Penitence, we confess our sins and beat upon our breasts, but too often this is a mere ritual. Even when we do understand the words we utter and do regret having done wrong, the emotion accompanying the regret is nowhere near the emotion that accompanied the sin to which we confess. If we regret having offended someone in the heat of anger, the pain of the awareness that we committed a wrong is rarely of the same magnitude as the anger that ignited our insult. Seldom do we shed genuine tears while confessing our sins, something that would occur spontaneously if our regret was both sincere and profound.

Guilt can be as healthy and constructive as the pain we feel when we touch something extremely hot, because the discomfort of guilt will make us avoid repeating an improper act, and this avoidance is what elicits forgiveness. To accomplish this end, the pain of guilt must be as profound as that of a burn, because only then do we stay on guard not to be hurt again.

Today I shall...

concentrate when reciting confession, so that my resolve not to repeat sinful acts will be sincere and profound.

Because the day has passed, shield us by the merit of [the Patriarch Abraham] who sat [at the door of his tent] in the heat of the day [to welcome wayfarers] (Genesis 18:1) (Ne'ilah prayer).

Just prior to Ne'ilah (the concluding service of Yom Kippur), one of the Chassidic masters ascended the bimah (platform) and said tearfully, "My dear brothers and sisters! God in His infinite mercy gave us the entire month of Elul to repent, but we failed to take advantage of it. He gave us the awesome days of Rosh Hashanah, when our standing in judgment before the heavenly tribunal should have stimulated us to repent, but we neglected that opportunity. He gave us the special grace of the Ten Days of Penitence, but we let these pass too. All we have left now are a few precious moments that are propitious for forgiveness.

"The Sages of the Talmud tell us that if a person enters a marriage contract on the condition that he is a perfect tzaddik, then it is binding even if he is known to be a complete rasha (wicked person). Why? Because he may have had one moment of sincere contrition that transformed him from a complete rasha to a perfect tzaddik. "Do you hear that, my dear brothers and sisters? All it takes one brief moment of sincere contrition! We have the opportunity of that moment now. In just one moment we can emerge totally cleansed of all our sins, in a state of perfection akin to that of Adam in the Garden of Eden."

The rabbi wept profusely and uncontrollably. "Could we be so foolish as to overlook such a rare opportunity? Let us assist one another and join in achieving sincere repentance!"

Today I shall...

take advantage of the Divine gift of forgiveness, and make my resolutions of repentance sincere, so that the new person that emerges will be unencumbered by the burdens of the past.

My soul thirsts for You; my flesh pines for You (Psalms 63:2).

One Yom Kippur, after the Maariv (evening) services that ended the 25-hour fast, Rabbi Levi Yitzchok of Berdichev exclaimed, "I am thirsty! I am thirsty!" Quickly someone brought him water, but the Rabbi said, "No! I am thirsty!" Hastily they boiled water and brought him coffee, but again he said, "No! No! I am thirsty!" His attendant then asked, "Just what is it you desire?"

"A tractate Succah (the volume of the Talmud dealing with the laws of the festival of Succos)." They brought the desired volume, and the Rabbi began to study the Talmud with great enthusiasm, ignoring the food and drink that were placed before him.

Only after several hours of intense study did the Rabbi breathe a sigh of relief and break his fast. The approaching festival of Succos with its many commandments - only five days after Yom Kippur - had aroused so intense a craving that it obscured the hunger and thirst of the fast.

It is also related that at the end of Succos and Pesach, festivals during which one does not put on tefillin, Rabbi Levi Yitzchok sat at the window, waiting for the first glimmer of dawn which would allow him to fulfill the mitzvah of tefillin after a respite of eight or nine days.

Today I shall...

try to realize that Torah and mitzvos are the nutrients of my life, so that I crave them just as I do food and water when I am hungry or thirsty.

Pursue the performance of even a "minor" mitzvah (Ethics of the Fathers 4:2).

How does one pursue a mitzvah?

Rabbi Moshe Leib of Sassov used to occupy himself with redeeming Jews from debtors' prisons. Usually, these people had been thrown into dungeons because they could not pay the rent demanded by the poritz (feudal lord). On one visit to such a prison, Rabbi Moshe Leib was unable to gain the release of a debtor, and gave up trying. He then saw another prisoner being flogged mercilessly, and he was able to get him released. Subsequently, he discovered that this latter person was not a debtor but one who was imprisoned for stealing.

"Well," said the Rabbi, "now you have been taught your lesson. After that flogging you will certainly never steal again."

"Why not?" the thief responded. "Just because I was caught this time does not mean that I will not succeed next time."

Rabbi Moshe Leib felt that these words were directed at him. Just because he had failed once to ransom a debtor, he did not have the right to resign himself to failure. He retraced his steps and renewed his efforts to redeem the debtor. Next time he might succeed.

That is what is meant by pursuit of a mitzvah. If a specific mitzvah eludes you, do not resign yourself, but pursue it until you overtake and fulfill it.

Today I shall...

renew my efforts to achieve things of which I had previously despaired.

... in order that his (the king's) should not be lifted above his brethren, and that he should not deviate from the commandment to the right or to the left (Deuteronomy 17:20).

The Torah requires that even one who is in a position of leadership and prominence must retain his humility. Moses and David are outstanding examples of leaders who were extremely humble.

How can one remain humble when one exercises great authority and is the recipient of homage and adulation? "Simple," said Rabbi Moshe of Kobrin. "If a king hangs his crown on a peg in the wall, would the peg boast that its extreme beauty drew the king's attention to it?"

While an organized society needs leaders, and in Judaism there is a need for Kohanim and Levites who have special functions, an intelligent person should never allow a particular status to turn his head and make him think that he is better than others. Nor should men consider themselves superior to women because they have certain mitzvos from which women are exempt, and women should not think that they must attain equality by rejecting these exemptions and performing these mitzvos. There is no need to attain something that one already has. Men and women, Kohanim and Levites, leaders and kings - we are all "pegs in the wall" which the King uses for His purposes as He sees fit.

True, we should always strive for that which is above us, but this means striving for greater wisdom and spirituality, and not for positions of superiority. The latter are not at all "above" us; one peg may be higher on the wall than another, but that does not make it a better peg.

Today I shall...

try to realize that I, like all other people in the world, am but an instrument of God, wherewith He wishes to achieve the Divine will.

I am hereby ready and prepared to fulfill the positive commandment ... (Siddur).

Erev Succos is a day on which Jews busily prepare for the commandments of the festival - building, covering, and decorating the succah, acquiring an esrog (citron) and the other three species, and the other preparations that are common to all festive days in the Jewish calendar. The commandments themselves are not performed until the festival begins, but the preparations occupy people for many days beforehand.

One of the Chassidic masters said that Satan once brought serious accusations against the Jews before God, stating that they had committed grievous sins and should be punished. Although the archangel Michael countered with bundles of mitzvos that Jews had performed, Satan argued that the mitzvos were insufficient to outweigh the sins. There was great danger that the heavenly tribunal would decree a harsh judgment against the Jews.

The archangel Michael then argued, "True, the Jews may have sinned, but this was because they were unable to resist temptation, and these were not premeditated acts. No one has ever preceded a sinful act by declaring, `I am hereby ready and prepared to violate the prohibition written in the Torah.' It is only mitzvos that they perform with forethought and preparation, but never sins." This argument thwarted the evil plot of Satan.

We can see that as important as the performance of a mitzvah is, the effort in preparing for it may be even more important. On Erev Succos, when we adorn the succah, and we place the esrog in a beautiful container, and lovingly prepare for the festival, we show our dedication to the Divine mitzvos.

Today I shall...

fully enjoy preparing for the Succos festival, and make joyful preparations an integral part of every commandment I perform.

Seven days shall you dwell in booths (Leviticus 23:42) ... and you shall only be rejoicing (Deuteronomy 16:15).

Succos is the festival designated as the season of our gladness. Yet the commentaries state that one of the symbolisms of the succah, a temporary hut, is that we dwell in it for seven days to symbolize man's temporary sojourn on earth for his average life span of seven decades (Psalms 90:10).

Human mortality is a rather sobering thought; it is hardly conducive to rejoicing. Most often we do not think about our mortality, and when circumstances force us to face it, we quickly dismiss it from our minds and go on acting as though we will live forever.

How different Torah values are from secular values! The Torah teaches us that there is an eternal life, a wholly spiritual life, whose bliss is far greater than the human mind can imagine. We are placed on this planet for our ephemeral earthly existence only to give us an opportunity to prepare for the eternal life.

The Torah teaches us to enjoy life, and if it restricts some pleasures, it is because we should enjoy life in a manner that befits a human being. Furthermore, our joy of living should not be diminished by the awareness of our mortality, nor need we deny it. The succah - the symbol of our temporary stay on earth - is beautifully decorated, and we enjoy our festive meals therein. Even our temporary existence can be beautiful and happy, and our faith in the eternal life should enhance that happiness.

Today I shall...

try to enjoy life as befits a spiritual person, knowing that the true life of man is not the fleeting one, but that of eternity.

And you shall take for yourself on the first day the fruit of a (citron) beauteous tree (Leviticus 23:40).

Rabbi Mordechai of Nesh'chiz looked forward all year to the mitzvah of the Four Species on Succos. Since a fine esrog was costly and Rabbi Mordechai was hardly a man of means, he would accumulate small coins all year round, even depriving himself of food, in order to be able to afford an esrog.

A few days before Succos, Rabbi Mordechai joyfully took the money he had saved, and in high spirits, went off to buy the coveted esrog. On the way, he encountered a man sitting at the side of the road, weeping bitterly. He inquired as to the reason for the man's grief, and the latter told him, "Woe is to me! I earn my living with my horse and wagon, and this morning my nag died. How am I to feed my wife and children?"

"How much do you need to buy another horse?" Rabbi Mordechai asked.

The sum that the man specified was exactly the amount that Rabbi Mordechai had laboriously saved all year long for the esrog. Without giving it another thought, he gave his purse to the man. "Here, my dear man. Go buy yourself a horse'

After the man joyfully left with the money, Rabbi Mordechai said, "Oh well. All of Israel will be fulfilling the mitzvah of the Four Species with an esrog, but I will do so with a horse."

Rabbi Mordechai's sacrifice of his personal comfort all year round teaches us how precious is the mitzvah of the Four Species, but his final act teaches us that the mitzvah of tzedakah (charity) is even greater.

Today I shall...

try to realize the greatness of the commandment of charity, to make certain that another person has the means to survive.

I welcome to my table the saintly guests, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joseph, and David (Machzor of Succos).

Why is Succos unique among all the festivals in that we invite the Patriarchs to share the celebration with us?

Succos is the festival of the harvest. All the efforts that had been invested in the land - plowing, watering, fertilizing, weeding, pruning, and finally harvesting - have culminated in an abundant harvest, and we are now ready to enjoy the fruits of our labor.

God wants us to enjoy worldly goods, but to do so in a manner that befits a spiritual people, a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. While there are many laws that pertain to working the land and tithing its produce, these do not yet assure our spirituality. Much of the Torah does not relate to specific law, but consists of a narration of the lives of Seven great leaders, whom we invite into our succah, as it were, because they are the role models whom we are to emulate. They were all people of means, yet their lives were dedicated to sanctity, and their worldly possessions did not distract them from their primary spiritual goals.

Each of them excelled in a particular attribute, although they all shared in each other's attributes. For example, Abraham's, benevolence, included majesty of benevolence, and David's majesty, included benevolence of majesty; yet they and all the intermediate leaders were paragons of humility and self-effacement. We invite the great leaders to our succah to remind us to fashion our lives after theirs.

Today I shall...

try to remember my roots, and incorporate my beautiful heritage into my daily activities.

May the mitzvah of sitting in the succah be considered before You as though I had fulfilled it with all its details and specifications, and the six hundred thirteen mitzvos that are dependent on it (Machzor for Succos).

In what way are all six hundred thirteen mitzvos dependent on the mitzvah of succah?

Rabbi Bunim of Pshis'cha said, "The mitzvah of succah is so precious - because I enter into the mitzvah with my entire person, even with my boots!"

All other commandments do not relate to the entire body. We study with our eyes, mouth, and brain, eat matzah with our mouths, listen to the shofar with our ears, and wear the tefillin on the arm and head. When we enter the succah, however, our whole body is enclosed within the mitzvah and, as Rabbi Bunim pointed out, nothing that is attached to us is excluded from the mitzvah, not even one's boots.

Whereas total immersion into a mitzvah occurs physically only with succah, the concept of total involvement should extend to all other mitzvos. Just as King David says of prayer, All my bones declare, "O, God, who is like unto You?" (Psalms 35:10), so with all mitzvos, the intensity of performance should engulf one's whole personality. Indeed, one should feel that not only one's person, but everything that one has is devoted to the Divine will.

The Kabbalists state that in addition to its manifest meaning, "something we have been commanded to do or not to do," the word mitzvah also means "joined," for one attaches oneself to God by performing His will. Contact with God should not be partial. When we relate to Him, we should do so with the totality of our being. In this way, succah teaches us how to perform all six hundred thirteen mitzvos.

Today I shall...

try to involve myself totally each time I pray, study Torah, or perform any other mitzvah.

And you shall take for yourself on the first day the fruit of a [citron] beauteous tree (Leviticus 23:40).

The halachah requires that an esrog must be beautiful, meaning that it must be free of blemishes. Even a minor defect may disqualify an esrog.

Why are the specifications for the esrog stricter than those for the other three species? Why is virtual perfection demanded only for the esrog?

The Midrash states that the leaf of the myrtle branch, is shaped like the eye, and its use in the mitzvah of the Four Species symbolizes to us that we must dedicate our eyes to the service of God, and not allow them to gaze upon things that would tempt us to sin. The leaf of the willow branch, resembles the lips, teaching us to guard our lips from speaking evil. The palm branch, represents the spinal cord, which controls all our actions, symbolizing that they are all dedicated to fulfilling the Divine will. The esrog resembles the heart, for one's thoughts and feelings should be absorbed with sanctity.

Ideally, while sight, speech, and deed should be completely involved with holiness, a deviation in any of these areas may be an isolated phenomenon and may not affect the whole being. Not so with thought and feeling. They affect everything one does. The heart's devotion must be complete, and there is, therefore, a greater requirement that the heart be pure.

The esrog, which represents the heart, must therefore be completely beautiful without the slightest defect.

Today I shall...

try to direct all my thoughts and feelings to fulfillment of the Divine will as expressed in the Torah.

All who are exempt from the succah [because of severe discomfort; e.g. heavy rain or extreme cold] and do not leave, do not receive reward for this and are merely simpletons (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim, Ramah, 639:7).

How wise we would be to observe the way great Torah personalities live, and see how their every move is calculated to adhere to Torah teachings.

Rabbi Chaim Ozer Grodzenski of Vilna had a severe cold one Succos and, because it was chilly in the succah, he ate indoors. However, he had a guest for whom a meal was served in the succah.

During the meal the guest was surprised to see Rabbi Chaim Ozer come into the succah all bundled up with coat and scarf. He asked the Rabbi why he had come out to the succah, especially since he had already eaten in the house.

Rabbi Chaim Ozer explained, "If being in the succah is distressful, then one is exempt from that particular mitzvah. However, the mitzvah of hachnasas orchim, hospitality to a guest, requires that the host join the guest at the table, so that the latter should not eat in solitude. We do not find that distress is an exemption for the mitzvah of hospitality. Thus, although I ate in the house, I have come to sit with you as part of the mitzvah of hospitality.This is what Torah living is all about. Everything one does must be carefully considered, so that it complies with Torah principles.

Today I shall...

try to give greater thought to what I do, to make sure that I am in compliance with Torah at all times.

Seven days shall you celebrate before Hashem, your God ... and you shall only be joyous (Deuteronomy 16:15).

Many people think of Judaism as being extremely solemn, perhaps not realizing that the essence of Judaism is simchah, joy, and that whatever solemnity there is, is in reality a preparation for joy.

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch points to a simple fact. The Torah designates one day each for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (the second day of Rosh Hashanah is of Rabbinical origin), whereas Succos, the festival of rejoicing, is of seven days' duration.

The Gaon of Vilna was asked which of the six hundred thirteen mitzvos he considered the most difficult to observe. He answered that it was Succos, because for seven consecutive days a person must be in constant joy. Regardless of what might occur during these days that might make it difficult for a person to feel happy, the mitzvah to rejoice requires him to overcome all obstacles to joy.

The Torah's position is that joy is not simply a spontaneous feeling that accompanies pleasant experiences. Joy requires work: meditation on why a person who is privileged to serve God should rejoice. Joy can be achieved even under adverse circumstances. This is something which is expected not only of great tzaddikim, but also of every Jew.

On Succos we must make the necessary effort to be in constant joy throughout the entire festival, and we should learn therefrom how to generate joy all year round.

Today I shall...

try to find ways to bring more joy into my life, and strive to achieve joy even when circumstances are not conducive thereto.

On the eighth day there shall be an assembly for you(Numbers 29:35).

Shemini Atzeres marks the close of the holiday season of the month of Tishrei. (Simchas Torah is merely an extension of Shemini Atzeres observed in the diaspora. In Israel, Simchas Torah is celebrated as Shemini Atzeres.) The literal meaning of atzeres is "restraint," and various interpretations have been given for the use of this term to designate the eighth day of the festival.

Perhaps the idea of restraint in this context refers to holding on to the spiritual joy and holiness experienced during this month, beginning with the repentance of the awesome days of Rosh Hashanah and culminating in the joy and love of Torah and mitzvos manifested during Succos. There is a great risk that once the holidays are behind us and we return to the daily life of work and business transactions, we may become so absorbed in those activities that we may dissipate all the spiritual wealth we had acquired during the month of festivals.

Just as one tightly seals a bottle of fine wine so that it does not lose its bouquet, so we should make this last day of the festival an atzeres, a tight seal that will retain all that we have harvested during Tishrei. Just as it is foolish to earn and not to conserve, so it would be foolish to achieve spirituality and not retain it.

Today I shall...

concentrate on how I can continue the self-improvement of the Days of Awe and the joy of the festive days throughout the entire year.

And for all the mighty hand and all the great awe that Moses did before the eyes of all Israel (Deuteronomy 34:12) ... In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth (Genesis 1:1).

On Simchas Torah we conclude the reading of the Torah in Deuteronomy and immediately begin another cycle with the first portion of Genesis. This symbolizes that the Torah, like a circle, is without end; its beginning and end are forever intertwined.

By reading the last portion and the first portion of the Torah contiguously, we connect the miraculous wonders performed by Moses to Creation. In other words, all the marvelous happenings in Egypt and the Wilderness were to impress upon the Israelites that there is a Creator Who rules the universe and conducts it as He wishes.

Without an ultimate goal, life is futile, and there can hardly be an ultimate goal in a universe that happened to come about through the accidental interaction of impersonal, mechanical forces. Furthermore, there can be no joy in a life that is futile, and indeed, people who feel that life is futile are apt to seek to escape from it rather than live it to its fullest.

The joy of the Succos festival reaches its zenith on Simchas Torah, and celebration of this joyous day is based on the awareness that our lives are purposeful and meaningful. The teachings and miracles of Moses, which instilled within us the faith that God created heaven and earth, are thus the key not only to the joy of the day, but to that of the entire year.

Today I shall...

try to realize that what gives meaning to life is that it is purposeful, and to the degree that I am convinced that God created the universe, to that degree can I achieve joy in living.

Restrain the festival by bonds to the corners of the altar (Psalms 118:27).

The Talmud states that if a person celebrates the day after the holiday with a festive meal, it is considered as though he had built an altar and had brought sacrificial offerings upon it (Succah 45b).

Rashi states that the reason for the eighth day, Shemini Atzeres, can be explained with the parable of a king who invited his children for several days of feasting. When the time came for them to leave, the king said, "Your departure is so difficult for me. Please stay with me for yet one more day" (Rashi, Leviticus 23:36). Similarly, after seven days of Succos, in His great love for Israel, God asks us to stay with Him for yet one more day before returning to our mundane activities, which so often distract us from Him.

To indicate that we cherish our closeness to God just as He does, we add a day of festivity after the last day of the holiday, to extend even further the intimate companionship with God. This testimony, that we value our intimacy with Him and that we leave the Sanctuary only because we must tend to our obligations, is held equivalent to building an altar and bringing votive offerings.

Indeed, God wants us to engage in work - Six days shall you work (Exodus 20:9) - but our attitude toward the workweek should be that of a person who is away from home on an assigned duty, and who longs to return home to his loved ones. The importance of our closeness to God should be manifest not only on the day following the festival but all year round as well.

Today I shall...

try to maintain the closeness with God, that I achieved during the festival, even when I am involved with the activities of everyday life.

He [Hillel] was accustomed to say, "If I am not for myself, then who will be for me?" (Ethics of the Fathers 1:14).

This phrase is sometimes misinterpreted to mean that one must primarily look out for oneself, as though Hillel was advocating selfishness as a desirable trait.

What Hillel really meant can be better understood with a statement by the Rabbi of Kotzk, who said, "If I am I because I am I, and you are you because you are you, then I am and you are. But if I am I because you are you, and you are you because I am I, then I am not and you are not."

Every person must have an identity, and that identity should not depend on what others think of him or what someone else wants him to be. A person who allows himself to be molded and manipulated by others does not have an identity or even an existence of his own, because he will always become whatever others want him to be, and he is essentially an extension of others, rather than an individual in his own right.

People, who allow others to determine who they are and what they are to do, generally do not assume full responsibility for their behavior. Their attitude is on, "He made me do it."

Both Hillel and the Rabbi of Kotzk demand that a person be fully responsible for his actions, and that he decide what he expects of himself and what he sees as his purpose in life.

Today I shall...

try to achieve my own identity. Whereas I will listen to the advice of those who are wiser than me, I will nonetheless never hold others responsible for what I do.

May He Who knows what is hidden accept our call for help and listen to our cry (Siddur).

The Talmud states that a person may be coerced to perform a mitzvah even if it is required that the mitzvah be done of one's own volition (Rosh Hashanah 6a).

But are not coercion and volition mutually exclusive? Not necessarily, explains Rambam. Inasmuch as the soul of the Jew intrinsically wishes to do the Divine will, and it is only the physical self - which is subject to temptation - that may be resistive, the coercion inflicted upon the person overcomes that external resistance. Thus, when one performs the mitzvah, it is with the full volition of the inner self, the true self, for at his core, every Jew wishes to comply with the mandates of the Torah.

There is a hidden part of us, to which we may have limited access, yet we know it is there. When we pray for our needs, said Rabbi Uri of Strelisk, we generally ask only for that which we feel ourselves to be lacking. However, we must also recognize that our soul has spiritual needs, and that we may not be aware of its cravings.

We therefore pray, said Rabbi Uri, that God should listen not only to the requests that we verbalize, but also to our hidden needs that are very important to us - but which He knows much better than we.

Today I shall...

try to realize that there is a part of me of which I am only vaguely aware. I must try to get to know that part of myself, because it is my very essence.

The heart of those that seek God shall rejoice. Seek God and His might, constantly seek His countenance (Psalms 105:3-4).

One might ask, "Why should I try to seek God? He is infinitely great, and so totally beyond human grasp that the search to understand Him is all in vain. Is it not senseless to exhaust oneself in an effort that is doomed to failure from its very outset?"

Rabbi Simcha Zissel of Kelm states that the above verses are the Psalmist's reply to this question. Spiritual quests are qualitatively different from physical ones. In worldly matters, a quest is futile if one finds nothing, and the disappointment is frustrating. Not so in one's search for God, wherein the search itself brings joy, for the very inquiry elevates the searcher.

Indeed, the Psalmist urges us never to cease the search, because the promise of joy in searching is contingent upon its continuity. One cannot stop midway, abandon the effort, and retire with one's winnings. Abandoning the search for God at any point brings a person back to square one. To achieve the joy in searching, it must be constantly seek His countenance.

This thought was also expressed by the Rabbi of Kotzk, on the verse, And from there you shall seek your God, and you shall find Him, if you seek Him with all your heart and soul (Deuteronomy 4:29). The Kotzker interpreted the verse to mean that the seeking is the finding; "you shall find Him if you seek ..." - but only if it is a lifelong quest, with all one's heart and soul.

Today I shall...

try to find God everywhere in the universe. I will study Torah literature to help me in this search.

Behold, He stands behind our walls, looking through the windows, and peering through the lattices (Song of Songs 2:9).

"Whether God watches through the windows or through the lattices," said Rabbi Yisrael of Salant, "God watches over us. The difference is that sometimes it is through a window, and then we can see Him just as He sees us. At other times, it is through a crack in the partition, where He can see us, but we do not see Him."

Both in the history of the nation and in our personal lives, there have been times when Divine intervention was manifest. There have also been times when we were in great distress and felt abandoned, but even then, though God seemed to be absent, He was watching over us. The Torah foretold that there would be times of anguish when we would feel that God is not among us. At such times we must strengthen our faith and declare, "Behold, the Keeper of Israel does not sleep nor slumber."

Commenting on the verse, He does great marvels alone (Psalms 136:4), our Sages tell us that "alone" means that only God is aware of some of the miracles He performs for us, because we are unable to recognize them as such. Those who failed to see the protective hand of God when the Iraqis rained scuds on Israel were morally and psychologically blind; anyone should have been aware of God's protection. But even when His intervention is less evident, we must know that He watches over us, albeit "through cracks in the lattices."

Today I shall...

try to reinforce my faith in the everpresent watchfulness of God over Israel as a whole, and over me as an individual.

Cause us to lie down, Hashem, our God, in peace, and cause us to rise up again to life and peace (Siddur).

I once asked a recovered alcoholic with many years of sobriety to share his experiences with a newcomer who was unable to understand how, after so many years of dependence on alcohol, someone under stress could avoid recourse to drink.

"It's simple," the veteran said. "Every morning when I get up, I ask God to help me stay sober one more day. Every night when I retire, I thank Him for having given me another day of sobriety, and hope that He will do the same for me tomorrow."

The novice listened in partial disbelief. "How do you know it was God that gave you the day of sobriety?" he asked.

The old-timer responded, "How stupid can you get? I hadn't asked anyone else!"

It is amazing how we sometimes complicate things that are quite simple.

Each night we entrust our weary soul to God, and each morning He not only returns it to us, but gives it to us in a refreshed state. Indeed, if we ask Him sincerely to cleanse it for us by removing the sins that stained it during the day, we can be assured that this request too will be granted, as long as it is sincere - because an honest request constitutes teshuvah, and the combination of repentance and faith is certain to earn us forgiveness.

Today I shall...

try to realize that each day of life is a Divine gift, and that I have the means of starting each day with a soul cleansed by God.

A person can see all lesions, except for his own (Negaim 2:5).

The above Talmudic law refers to the particular kinds of lesions that must be examined by a Kohen (priest) to determine whether they are ritually clean or contaminated. The Talmud states that a Kohen is not eligible to pass judgment on lesions affecting his own person, since he cannot have the necessary objectivity where he is involved.

This statement has been interpreted homiletically to mean that a person is capable of recognizing all defects except his own; a person will tend to deny his own faults, although he will easily recognize similar flaws in others.

The Baal Shem Tov gave this statement yet another profound interpretation simply by moving the comma ahead by one word. In his formulation, the statement reads, "A person can see all defects on the outside, [if they are like] his own." We see in others only the sort of defects that exist in ourselves. The Baal Shem Tov taught that whenever we find fault with another person, we should analyze ourselves carefully to discover where that same fault exists within ourselves. We will deny it vehemently, and project it onto others.

The Talmudic commentaries anticipated modern psychological discoveries by many centuries. "Denial" and "projection" go hand in hand to focus on others and prevent us from making the necessary improvements in our character.

Today I shall...

try to do a personal inventory, to seek out where I might have those faults that I identify in others, and make an effort to correct them.

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