Tag Archives: celebration

The Boy in the Sukkah

Sukkah in the rainIn a sense, Sukkos itself is about getting our priorities straight. Here we just finished with the Days of Judgement, hopefully with Hashem’s blessings for a year of prosperity and success. Yet the first thing we do with our new-found blessings is to leave our comfortable homes for the temporary shade of the Sukkah. We thereby acknowledge that there can be no greater “success” in life that to do what Hashem really desires, even when it’s not what’s most comfortable. Sometimes we shake with the Esrog and sometimes we shake with the horse – the main thing is to strive to understand what Hashem wants of us in a given situation, not what we want or what makes us feel good. As the pasuk says (Mishlei/Proverbs 3:6), “In all your ways know Him; He will straighten your paths.”

-Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffman
“Sukkos: Shaking Up Our Priorities”
Torah.org

My four-and-a-half year old grandson keeps calling me from my Sukkah. Actually, he keeps phoning me from my Sukkah, calling me at work. OK, he’s only done it twice, and he had Bubbe’s (my wife’s) help doing it.

The first time was actually a day or so before the festival began. He and Bubbe were lunching in the Sukkah and he called me to invite me over. Unfortunately, I couldn’t leave my job right then, but agreed to join him later that afternoon. The second time was a few days later, still at the same time of day. He wanted to know why “Uncle Mikey” (one of my sons) wasn’t answering his phone. I explained that “Uncle Mikey” was probably in school (university) and couldn’t answer the phone.

The kid really wants more company in my Sukkah. And that’s a good thing.

This is the season of joy for Jewish people. The days of judgment have passed and there is great celebration in or rather outside many Jewish homes, eating, and singing, and dancing, all for the sake of the Torah and Hashem.

As I write this (on Friday before Shabbos), I have yet to take a meal in my own Sukkah (Note: On Shabbos I started taking my meals in the Sukkah). I almost did last night, but my wife and I had a conversation on a serious subject while making dinner and, both being distracted, we sat down at the kitchen table for our meal and were eating before I realized we’d missed eating in the Sukkah together.

I thought about breakfast or at least coffee this morning in the Sukkah, but it was still dark outside and after coming back from the gym, my son (in this case, David) and I were in a rush to get ready for work.

As Rabbi Hoffman suggests, I need to get my priorities straight. Obviously, my grandson already has his up to snuff, since he’s eating every day in the Sukkah and trying to invite others to do the same.

landonAnd I’m pretty sure that at his age, he doesn’t really grasp Sukkot yet.

But who knows?

It’s Friday before Shabbos, but you won’t read this until Monday morning (or later). I’m hoping I can get all the kids over on Sunday for a meal. Everyone has different schedules so it isn’t easy to gather together in our home regularly. But just once this week, it would be nice to eat with the family in the Sukkah (Note: As it turned out, everyone had plans away from our home on Sunday, including my wife…ah, maybe next year).

It is said in Machzor of Succos, “I welcome to my table the saintly guests, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joseph, and David.” It is said in the Siddur, “I am hereby ready and prepared to fulfill the positive commandment…” It is said in Isaiah 11:6 “And a little boy will lead them.”

And so, we should follow.

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Joy

Do you remember the thrill of hitting a home run? Getting out on the last day of school? Riding your new bicycle? You jump with joy. Fantastic!

Joy gives you energy and makes you feel great. You can achieve all kinds of things that otherwise may seem too difficult to attempt. With joy, you’re not afraid to talk to the guy sitting next to you on the plane. No problem! You’ve got energy, buoyancy. You’re alive!

True joy comes from the pleasure of growth and self-actualization – when we conquer a difficult challenge, or experience a moment of clarity.

When your team wins the World Series, or when you win the lottery, the joy is a delusion. Why? Because you did not change or grow.

Joy cannot result from events, from “good things happening to you.” Joy is solely the result of your reaction to life, your commitment to turning every moment into a growth experience. A new baby means you have to extend yourself at all hours of the day and night. That’s not easy. But if you focus – even at 3 a.m. – you’ll recognize this as real joy.

Do significant things and you will have more joy. If you are fighting for a cause, you are making an impact on the world. You are heavy. You are eternal.

-Rabbi Noah Weinberg
“Way #8, Constant Joy”
48 Ways to Wisdom
Aish.com

“Oh well,” he said after a moment. “Then I’ll dance, boss. Sit further away, so I don’t barge into you.”

He made a leap, rushed out of the hut, cast off his shoes, his coat, his vest, rolled his trousers up to his knees, and started dancing. His face was still black with coal. The whites of his eyes gleamed.

He threw himself into the dance, clapping his hands, leaping and pirouetting in the air, falling on to his knees, leaping again with his legs tucked up – it was as if he were made of rubber. He suddenly made tremendous bounds in to the air, as if he wished to conquer the laws of nature and fly away. One felt that in this old body of his there was a soul struggling to carry away this flesh and cast itself like a meteor into the darkness. It shook the body which fell back to earth, since it could not stay very long in the air; it shot it again pitilessly, this time a little higher, but the poor body fell again, breathless.

-Nikos Kazantzakis
Zorba the Greek (1946)

Joy is usually an occasional or even rare event in our lives, not a constant companion. But then, how many of us could endure a constant state of joy, as if we were old Zorba, pushing our bodies to the limit, dancing and leaping and trying to defy gravity until we finally collapse on the ground exhausted?

Actually, this sounds like another “unlikely sage” I described last spring; Moshe the Shepherd, who also expressed unbounded joy with almost limitless energy.

Then he got up and said, “Master of the world, I’m just a simple shepherd; I don’t know any Torah, and I don’t know how to pray. What can I do for You? The only thing I know is to sing shepherds’ songs!” He then began to sing loudly and fervently with all his strength until, again, he fell to the earth, exhausted, without an ounce of energy.

-Yitzchak Buxbaum
“The Shepherd”
from his book, Light and Fire of the Baal Shem Tov
quoted from Chabad.org

It’s the day after Yom Kippur. Either you feel elated or depressed. Like Elaina Cline said, “I used to hate Yom Kippur. Every year, as we blew the shofar and rushed home to eat, I would secretly breathe a huge sigh of relief. It was finally over – all the misery, the moroseness, the fear – until next year.”

You can hate Yom Kippur. You can dread confronting the darkest side of your soul. Or you can take joy in the opportunity to realize that what is worst about you is not who you really are. You are really a soul full of joy, singing, leaping, striving to reach your Creator, and to dance with God.

God does not desire that we remain in our pit of mud, sorrow, and regret. He didn’t create us to simply suffer and cry. We must have joy; we must take joy in Him, in all that He’s done for us, for creating our life, for giving us ambition and purpose, for granting us wings so that we can fly.

What is G‑d’s ultimate delight?

That a human soul will build portals of light so that the Creator’s presence may shine into His creation.

That a breath from His essence will pull herself out from the mud and turn to Him in love.

That a child of His being, exiled to the shadows of a physical world, will discover that the darkness is nothing more than Father hiding, waiting for His child to discover Him there.

But none of these can reach to the essence of all delights, the origin of all things, the hidden pleasure beyond all pleasures: The delight that this breath, this soul, this child did it all on its own.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“The Ultimate Delight”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson
Chabad.org

Sukkah in the rainSukkot is coming soon; a time to build and decorate, a time to eat, drink, and celebrate. Who better to invite to the party than God. How shall we call out to Him and express our joy?

“And my tongue will express Your charity. Your praise all day long.”

Psalms 35:28

The charity that King David was referring to was the kindness and charity that the Almighty bestowed on him. Out of gratitude and appreciation for this, King David would praise Hashem all day long.

Fulfillment of this one verse would guarantee a person a life of happiness and gratitude – an elevated and spiritual life.

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
“A Guarantee of Happiness”
Daily Lift #587
Aish.com

Oh come, let us sing to the Lord;
let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!
Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving;
let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!
For the Lord is a great God,
and a great King above all gods.
In his hand are the depths of the earth;
the heights of the mountains are his also.
The sea is his, for he made it,
and his hands formed the dry land.
Oh come, let us worship and bow down;
let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!

Psalm 95:1-6 (ESV)

Although life is no bed of roses and we face our burdens and struggles every day, God is with us. He cares about us, and makes the way clear for us to approach Him, from the greatest to the smallest, all of His creatures. Do not be afraid. Do not be discouraged. Even in the midst of your troubles, count it all joy.

Shavua Tov, chodesh tov, and shana tova!

A Christian at Shauvot

the-joy-of-torahLast week, I had the opportunity to speak with a visitor to our website, a woman in her mid-50s. Sarah* was baptized as a child and grew up “in the church,” but always felt an affinity to the Jewish People. She even recalls mentioning to her parents that she wished she were Jewish, which they dismissed despite her maternal grandparents’ very Jewish-sounding last name.

Later in life, she developed an interest in genealogy, and began to research her family tree. Slowly but surely, the evidence became incontrovertible: she was, in fact, a Jew all along. It turned out that her grandparents had barely escaped the Holocaust, and with her parents had conspired to hide their Jewish identity from her siblings and cousins.

What is most remarkable about this story is not merely her discovery, but that her desire to learn more about Judaism had in fact preceded it. Now it is truly a journey of self-discovery as well. Her Jewish soul was calling to her, and over time it became impossible to ignore.

In just a week’s time, we will celebrate the holiday of Shavuos, which commemorates the giving of the Torah. But because Judaism teaches that the spiritual energies of each holiday return to the world each year at that time, it is by no means merely a commemoration, but a time uniquely appropriate for receiving the Torah, for increasing our knowledge and understanding.

-Rabbi Yaakov Menken
“Is it Time for More?”
ProjectGenesis.org

In less than a week, I’ll be attending the First Fruits of Zion 2012 Shavuot Conference in Hudson, WI. In my case, it will be an interesting experience but not one like the situation described by Rabbi Menken. It is true that I am “attracted” to Judaism, its customs and traditions, its teachings and philosophy, but at the same time, I’m very conscious of how “alien” an environment it is. While I “borrow” a great deal of my source material from Chabad.org, I am aware, primarily through my wife, of how much of a “goy” I am, particularly in relation with my brief, periodic contacts with our local Chabad community.

So what am I doing here?

Believe it or not, I ask myself that question a lot. The simple and straightforward answer is that I have no where else to go. When I stop for a moment on my particular journey, and take stock of how far I’ve come and where I am now, I find that I’m swimming in some strange lagoon or tide pool off to the side of traditional Christianity and Judaism. Though you may not believe it, in many ways that body of water is fed more by Christianity, at least culturally, than by Judaism.

I was made particularly aware of that this morning when I read the part of Rabbi Menken’s missive that said:

So please take this as an invitation. The reason why we have these chat and e-mail services are so that people in distant locations, and people who are not ready to walk into a class, can make contact and get some guidance as to the next steps they might take. Rather than replying to this email, the best ways to reach us are via chat on Torah.org, or a question on JewishAnswers.org… or perhaps a comment, which you can tell us is not to be published!

I’ve met more than a few non-Jewish people in the Hebrew Roots movement who felt that their story was, or should be like, the one described by Rabbi Menken and, the fact that they were attracted to Judaism meant that they were some sort of “crypto-Jew” with hidden Jewish relatives lurking somewhere in their distant history. For the woman Rabbi Menken describes, this was actually true, but for most of us who lean more toward Jewish educational resources than the latest devotionals found in the local Christian bookstore, it is not.

So what’s the story for the rest of us?

I have no idea.

Oh, I can weave theories and engage in guesswork, but that’s all it is…theories and guesswork.

As I was reading this morning, I imagined that at the upcoming Shavuot conference, I would be doing this with the others in attendance:

Give thanks to Hashem, declare His Name, make His acts known among the peoples. Sing to Him, make music to Him, speak of all His wonders. Glory in His Holy Name, may the heart of those who seek Hashem be glad. Search out Hashem and His might, seek His Presence always. –Psalm 105:1-4 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

And yet given the mixed crowd of Jews and non-Jews present to give honor and glory to the Jewish Messiah, I wondered if the following was also part of the reason for me being there:

Thus said Hashem, Master of Legions; In those days, it will happen that ten men, of all the [different] languages of the nations, will take hold, they will take hold of the corner of the garment of a Jewish man, saying, “Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.” –Zechariah 8:23 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

I’ve recently written on more than one occasion that “salvation is from the Jews” (John 4:22), which are the Master’s own words. Given the amount of “push back” that I’ve received from the traditional Christian perspective, it’s hard to imagine a time when the prophesy of Zechariah 8:23 will come to pass, unless none of those ten men are Christian.

On the other hand, the prophet may have been speaking of a time when we will all realize that Christianity can no longer afford to be divorced from Judaism, and that Jews and Gentiles who are devoted to God and particularly those who are disciples of the Master, must find times to join together and “give thanks to Hashem, declare His Name, (and) make His acts known among the peoples.”

ShavuotAs for now, there are still many barriers between human beings and this kind of unity and peace. We should take advantage or those rare times when we, who have different backgrounds and traditions, can join together “in spirit and in truth” and give thanks to the glory of God together. I join my Jewish brothers and sisters, along with many other believing Gentiles on Shavuot, not to seek my Jewish soul or to imagine I’m someone that I’m not, but to summon some slender thread at the corner of the garment of Zechariah’s prophesy, take hold of it, and to allow the barriers that separate us to become the walls of the corridors that lead us all to Messianic peace and fellowship.

Nothing limits you, no force that holds you captive—other than a fiction of your imagination.

So you will say, “What, then, of the forces of nature? Of the constraints of a human body? Of the hard reality that slams against me when I attempt to stride through the barriers of life?”

Yes, they are there. But they are not what they seem to be.

They are not there to oppose you, but to carry you. As your soul pulls forward, those barriers force her inward, towards her deepest, strongest self.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Pushed From Behind”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson
Chabad.org