SIMCHAS TORAH CELEBRATIONS this Thursday night - see below
Question of the Week:
Why on earth do we still keep two days of Yomtov outside of Israel? I know the history: in ancient times people didn't have calendars on their phones, because the calendar was not set in advance, but rather month by month. When witnesses saw the new moon they reported it to the rabbis in the Temple, and the rabbis would declare that a new month had begun. It would take a couple of weeks for the message to reach outlying communities, so they could never be sure of the correct date to celebrate the festivals. So the diaspora communities kept two days to be on the safe side.
That made sense back then, but for heavens sake, we have calendars today! Why do we still keep two days in the diaspora for every festival that is one day in Israel?
For me, this is one of the most ridiculous laws. It's like the World Jewish Council of Rabbis can't be bothered to overturn it or discuss it. Or perhaps they fear a backlash from Jewish bakers, butchers and grocers around the world who like having more Jewish festivals with more meals....
Can't we update this one already?
I remember I had a teacher who had little patience. If a student missed out on what he said, he got furious and thundered, "Why can't you listen the first time? I will not repeat myself."
This is not fair. Not everyone can grasp an idea all at once. There are some gifted individuals who are sharp enough to get it the first time. But many of us need to hear something twice before it sinks in. a good teacher should no this.
G-d is the greatest teacher, and time itself is His classroom. Every festival in the Jewish calendar is like a lesson G-d teaches to the world. On Pesach we learn about freedom, and G-d beams a light of freedom into the world. On Sukkos we study the meaning of true happiness, and G-d sends the gift of joy into our hearts. Each festival and its observances are the way we receive the lesson, the light and wisdom of the day.
When you live in the Holy Land, its very air makes you wise, it opens you up to spiritual wisdom. Like a gifted student, you get the lesson the first time. You need only celebrate one day of each festival, and its message hits home straight away.
In the diaspora, we just don't get it so fast. We need more time for the lesson to sink in, as the air here is not as spiritually refined as Israel air. And so we are given a second day, another chance to fully absorb the power of the festival and for the message to hit home.
Our sages prophesied that one day in the future, the holiness of Israel will cover the entire earth, and then we will all get it the first time. Until then, we in the diaspora can enjoy the extended holiness of an extra day.
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Question of the Week:
I think I have the post Yom Kippur blues. Every year I get all inspired by the fast, and am sure that I will be more committed to Judaism in the year ahead. But somehow it dissipates pretty quick (like around the third mouthful after breaking the fast). I don't want to lose it again this year. Any suggestions?
I know just what you need. You need to be swaddled.
A newborn baby, moments after birth, is taken by a midwife and wrapped up in a swaddling cloth. This serves to keep the newborn protected and warm. Having just emerged from the security and nurture of the womb, the baby is particularly vulnerable and sensitive. A good swaddling cloth gives him a sense of protection from the cold and harsh world out here.
But swaddling doesn't last long. You rarely see teenagers wrapped up in a cloth with their arms behind their ears. (Though perhaps some should be.) Swaddling is a brief bridging stage between the safety of the womb and the hazards of real life. A well wrapped baby will eventually grow to face life unwrapped. The swaddle cloth just helps him get there.
Your soul needs that bridge too. You have emerged from the womb of Yom Kippur a pure and renewed soul. The negative residue from your past has been cleansed. Your soul is now tender and sensitive, and easily susceptible to the coldness of spiritual apathy and other moral germs floating in the air. You need some protection. You need to be swaddled. You need a Sukkah.
The Sukkah is the only mitzvah that you do with your whole being. The holy air of the Sukkah completely envelops and surrounds you. It turns everything you do into a holy act. Just eating and drinking and chatting in the Sukkah is a mitzvah, just because it is done in the divine shade of the Sukkah. When you sit in a Sukkah, you are being swaddled by sanctity.
Going from the highs of Yom Kippur straight back into the routine of the mundane world is like taking a new born from her mother's womb straight out into the cold night. You just cant do that. Sit in the Sukkah. Bask in its sacred shade. Be enwrapped in its warm embrace.
You aren't suffering from post-Yom Kippur blues, you are just an unswaddled soul. The Sukkah can fix that.
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Question of the Week:
(from Batya age 8)
Why do we wear tennis shoes or crocs on Yom Kippur? It used to be a luxury to wear leather shoes in the olden days, but today it's not such a big deal to wear leather, and anyway non-leather shoes are just as comfortable, and quite cool. So why can't we just wear leather shoes?
Shoes are what connect us to the earth. And so footwear represent what life on earth is all about. Sometimes we can wear leather shoes, sometimes we shouldn't.
Leather is animal skin that has been processed and refined. A coarse piece of rawhide is stretched and boiled, treated and purified, to make a final product that is smooth to touch and comfortable to wear.
The human being is like an animal in many ways. We eat and drink, and spend a lot of time worrying about our own survival. Our soul's mission on earth is to take the animal within us and tame it, to smooth out the rough edges of our personality, to transform our leather into shoes.
We do this work every day of the year, except one.
One day a year we withdraw from the physical world and retreat into a world of pure soul. Because while the human being may be similar to an animal, we are also similar to angels. We each have a deeply spiritual side, a side that is pure and holy. It can sometimes get lost beneath our animal side. So one day a year we shed our animal-like exterior and become angelic, connecting to our soul and letting its light shine.
That day is Yom Kippur. Adults do not eat or drink, and we do no physical work. We escape for a day to a spiritual haven. And we don't wear leather shoes. We are not taming any animals today. We are singing with the angels.
By the end of Yom Kippur, your body may be tired, but your soul is refreshed. You will be ready to put your leather shoes back on, and begin again your task of taming the animal. Because your mission is not to be an angel, but to be a good human being, by refining your own inner animal and revealing your unique soul. No one else can fill your shoes.
Good Shabbos, Good Yomtov, an easy fast, and may you be sealed for a good and sweet year,