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Time to unpack!

Thursday, 15 October, 2020 - 6:52 pm

 The 50-day shopping spree is done, and last weekend we gathered all our purchases and brought them into the house.  We have done Teshuvah, given extra Tzedakah, and generally ramped up our observance and connection to Hashem.  We have prayed, fasted, eaten festive meals, sang and danced, and celebrated in many different ways.  The blessings of the High Holidays and Sukkot have all been collected. (See more about this in my blog post from last week here.)  Now the time has come to unpack the packages.  A marathon shopping spree should yield results.  There should be new items to use and new clothes to wear.  If all the packages are still in the bags,what’s the use of the shopping?  Having gone through all of these great experiences over the last two months, can we just go back to the way we were before and be satisfied?  It would seem that it is well worth our while to internalize all of the inspiration we have received, and ensure that we grow significantly in the new year.


Those sound like nice words, but how do we make it practical?  Of course each person processes things differently, and it has to fit each person’s character.  But I think that in general, we can take a cue from the fact that here we are again reading Parshat Bereshit, the beginning of the Torah.  It is an amazing thing if you think about it.  Imagine graduating high school, and at the graduation ceremony, with diploma in hand, you sign up to repeat high school!  Or getting your Bachelors degree and going back for another four years of college.  Have you ever read a book and immediately started it again from the beginning?  I assume you may have once or twice, because the book was so good, but again and again 75 or more times?  Yet here we are, every single year of our lives, for over 3,000 years, finishing the Torah and immediately starting again!  And we do it with great joy, dancing and fanfare!  (Have you heard how the words “It was evening, it was morning, day 1, etc.” are read on Simchat Torah?)  How can we do this with so much excitement and love and concentration, to learn the same book over and over again for an entire lifetime?


The answer is that this is not just another book.  This is the eternal, timeless wisdom of Hashem, and just as Hashem is infinite, so is the Torah.  We never reach the ultimate understanding of Torah, because it is limitless, and it is in fact a miraculous gift that Hashem gave us that our finite minds can even grasp a tiny sliver of understanding of the eternal.  The more times we learn the Torah, the more we realize that there is so much beyond our understanding, and the more we yearn to learn and grow in its understanding.  The Torah, being eternal, is also not bound to time.  The source of Torah, Hashem’s will and wisdom, is not of the dimensions of time and space of this world.  It would therefore not be accurate to say that it was given once thousands of years ago.  The giving of the Torah is a constant thing.  This is a concept that is very difficult for us to wrap our minds around, because our whole experience is within time and space, but that doesn’t mean it is not so.  We can’t see radio waves, but they travel constantly around the world.  There is much that we can’t see, but science tells us it exists. 


In the Shema, we read:  “The words that I am commanding you ‘today’ shall be on your heart.”  Our Sages explain that this means that the words should be new to us, as if they were actually commanded today, and that means this very day in October 2020.  How can a person connect with the same excitement to ancient words as to those that are brand new?  The answer lies in the first words of the Shema: “Hashem is One.”  This means not only that there is only one G-d.  It also means that in reality there is nothing but G-d, because everything in existence was created from nothing by His word.  (I will be exploring this concept at length in the upcoming series of classes “Decoding Jewish Mysticism”: beginning on Sunday. Click here to RSVP)  All of reality is in truth Hashem’s word, condensed and hidden behind the veil of nature.  And that creative process is constant.  So this moment, the very source of the entire world, including our own existence, is being renewed by Hashem.  If we can contemplate that in a way that it begins to resonate with us, we can tap into at least a tiny connection to the eternal, and realize that indeed Hashem is giving us the Torah today.  Whenever we do a Mitzvah, we are rising above the limits of time and space and plugging in to the eternal.


This is perhaps what we feel, albeit not always consciously, when we call out “It was evening it was morning one day” on Simchat Torah.  Our soul is expressing that this is happening right now!  So now to the unpacking.  Stop and think for a moment about how you felt at the moment on Yom Kippur just before the Shofar blowing, when we called out with all our might “Shema Yisrael,” and Hashem Hu Ha’Elokim’ – Hashem is G-d.”  It was a while ago, but the soul feeling is eternal and is there right now, just beneath the surface.  Think back to the sound of the Shofar on Rosh Hashana, the spiritual tranquility and joy in the Sukkah, the uplifting feeling you had when enjoying a holiday meal that went beyond just enjoying good food.  Think of a commitment you made over the high holidays and implement it today.  Do a Mitzvah with deeper feeling.  You don’t have to unpack everything at once.  A little every day, a few moments of contemplation before you do a Mitzvah or a deeper appreciation of the miracle of daily rebirth when you wake up in the morning.  This will ensure that the experience of the past couple of months will stay with you.


And one more thing:  Since the Torah is eternal, beyond time, even if you didn’t do any of the above, it is never too late to tap into the feelings and the observance.  Hashem’s doors are always open to each and every one of us.  All we have to do today is take a small step toward them.  

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