Torah Portion: Ha’azinu
September 22, 2018 | 13/Tishrei/5779
BRAINSTORMING WITH BAARS
by Rabbi Stephen Baars
Ten Days of Repentance (Deuteronomy 32)
“Run not too far, for thou must return the same distance.” (Midrash – Kohelet Rabbati 11)
Every person will, at some point in his life, take an accounting. Even more than asking if he achieved his goals, he will ask himself if he achieved the right goals.
“Was it worth all that effort? Could I have achieved more? If only I had thought it through….”
You don’t have to be old to ask these questions. But the older you are, the harder these questions are to face … and the more frequently they rise to consciousness.
The High Holidays train us to think through and face these questions now, as opposed to then. To take the pain of “now,” rather than the anguish of “then.” Pain is passing, but the results are permanent.
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SET YOUR SIGHTS
“In striving for goals, you may chance to smell the roses along the way. Be wary my son, lest the weariness of your feet and the luring fragrance entice you onto a very different course…”
Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch (19th century Germany) helps us put life into perspective:
“And shall man … be casual and inattentive and ignore the seriousness which attaches to his every step? Shall he scatter thoughts, feelings, enjoyments, words and deeds with blind recklessness like seeds in the bosom of the future, completely forgetting that even the most idle thought does not pass through his breast without leaving some trace, some result? Shall he play with his years, months, days and hours without reflecting that eternity belongs to every moment? Shall he laugh at the claim which the universe possesses on every one of his steps? Shall he laugh at the future which he builds with every one of his movements?“
Life without thought is action without meaningful consequence. Thought brings real decisions. It’s the opportunity to decide where you want to go, rather than being led where the world wants you to go. Without thought, it’s the roses that direct your path. Every fragrance, every distraction sets you toward another direction. You wind up leading life by your nose, not your mind.
During this High Holiday season, take an honest moment and reflect back on the previous year.
Did it give you what you wanted, or was it a year of aimless pursuits?
Moses lived a full life, 120 years to the day. He reached the pinnacle of his potential. His life, like
this week’s Parsha, was a beautiful song.
So set your sights. Focus your ambition. Plan your goals in a way that guarantees their success. But ensure that the goals you choose, if achieved, will afford you on the next High Holidays the pleasure of knowing your year was very well spent.
1: What are your three biggest achievements in the past year? three biggest mistakes?
2: If (God forbid) you knew you would only live for one more year, what is the most significant thing you would want to achieve?
OUTLOOKS AND INSIGHTS
Four Free Days
by Rabbi Zev Leff
The Midrash (Yalkut Emor 651) comments on the verse,
“You should take for you on the first day,” that Sukkot is the first day for the accounting of sins. Many explanations are offered to explain this difficult Midrash.
The Shlah HaKadosh explains that in the four days between Yom Kippur and Sukkot, people are so busy preparing for Sukkot that they have no time to sin. Others say that the influence of Yom Kippur and its power to expiate sins extends into these four days. Rabbi Yehonasan Eibshitz writes in Ya’aros Dvash that the gematria of “the Satan” is 364, from which the Sages learn that the Satan, the evil urge, has power 364 days of the year, and not on Yom Kippur. The letter “heh” signifies that on five of the remaining days the Satan has reduced control. These are the days between Yom Kippur and Sukkot (counting a portion of the first day of Sukkot as the fifth day).
The effect of Yom Kippur is so overwhelming and inspiring that a Jew is catapulted to a level far beyond his real attainment. We are judged according to our level, and therefore someone on a higher level is judged more harshly for the same sin than someone on a lower level. Thus, if God were to judge us immediately after Yom Kippur according to our level at that time, the result would be an unduly harsh judgment.
Just as before Rosh Hashana we are given a minimum of four days of Selichot to prepare ourselves to enter Rosh Hashana as a blemish-free sacrifice, so we are given four days after Yom Kippur to settle back to our real level. The accounting of our sins during these four days is then retroactively calculated according to the level we reach on the first day of Sukkot. These four days are like a decompression chamber given to a deep-sea diver.
Another aspect of these euphoric four days is the fact that we are so charged emotionally and so busy preparing the materials for Sukkot, that even when we sin, those sins are rarely premeditated or calculated. Similarly, the preparations are also executed in a frenzied mood of elation that leaves little time or place for calculation and meditation. To a certain degree, this elation is positive. It corresponds to the days after that first Yom Kippur in the desert in which the materials for the Mishkan were donated and the people gave with unbridled emotion, without any calculation of necessity. Finally, Moshe had to call a halt to this unbridled giving and announce, “Enough.”
This powerful emotion is the raw material to be shaped with reflection into a Mishkan. The Torah relates in this week’s parsha that God bid Moses to ascend Mount Nevo to expire “in the midst of the day.” The entire people had said they would try to prevent Moses’ death. The obvious question is: What could they have done to prevent Moses from dying?
The answer is: nothing. But the people were so emotionally charged with love for Moses — despite the month-long rebuke to which they had been subjected — that rational calculation did not exist. By commanding Moses to go up at midday to show their helplessness to prevent his passing, God, at the same time, publicized this commendable desire of the Jewish people. Later, the unbounded love for Moses was refined and shaped into the loyalty which the people transferred to Joshua.
The four days between Yom Kippur and Sukkot correspond to the four letters of God’s Ineffable Name. Our feelings during these four days are raw material to be shaped in calm reflection and transformed into our calculated service of God on the first days of Sukkot. May we utilize the special opportunity of these four days to prepare for Sukkot and the mitzvah of lulav, symbolic of our victory on Yom Kippur, and by channeling the intense emotion with which we emerge from Yom Kippur so that it extends its influence into the entire year.
“Never make the bottom line your top line” — Dr. Mardy Grothe
When Izydor applied for an American driver’s license, he was asked to read the eye chart. The clerk pointed to the first line with the letters “P O W Z Y N S K E Y.”
“Now sir,” said the clerk. “Can you read this?”
“Read it?” replied Izydor, “the man used to be my next-door neighbor!”
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