At this time of year, should we deeply examine not only ourselves but also all that is around us finding positive meaning to better ourselves and family?
“Awe is the realization that things no matter how remote, stand for something else. Awe is a sense for the transcendence, for the mystery beyond all things….to sense the Ultimate in the common and simple…to feel in the rush of the passing…the still of the eternal.”
R. Abraham Joshua Heschel
Stuck in traffic, crawling along I pass on my left, a parked yellow painted car. A Gypsy cab with its rear smashed in, crushed into the back seats, certainly out of commission. Rolling past and then to a standstill, an AWE-full scene unfolds in my driver’s side mirror. The owner comes out, visibly, understandably distraught, hands on his head, nervously surveying back and forth the damage. In my little mirror his agony came through, his fear, anger, his “how am I going to feed my family?”
Then in the midst of all his tsurus an angel appeared, his daughter, a little girl, maybe 7 or 8 in a lavender chiffon like dress. It appeared as if she was to perform in a school musical. Showing off to her Papa, trying to imagine what her lips were saying…”Do I look pretty Daddy? Do you SEE my beautiful new dress?” The father at that moment had his despair turn into joy, a scene of appreciation, contentment directing his total being to this moment, to the blessings from his angel, his gift from G-d, his celebration of what he truly has. I tell you it was a heavenly musical that played out in my side view mirror. It was also an enlightening moment. I knew that I could only pray to be at such a level to reap the joy, the appreciation of all the moments G-d has given me amidst any darkness I see. Am I father enough to communicate the value, the importance, the G-dliness of such an attitude to my children and to those around me?
“Music in a score is open only to him who has music in his soul. It is not enough to play the notes, one must be what he plays.” Heschel
Anyone can see what is beautiful, meaningful and AWEsome in the experience of my drive by. A Jew must be able to take those feelings and emotions displayed by the father and as an exampled witness to the holy, apply that to all we do and in particular, to the Mitzvot. In doing that, we achieve Holiness, the true Jewish Experience in conforming to G-d’s ways and to living.
In Ki Tavo we learn I have done all the Lord Commanded of me….I have Rejoiced and caused others to rejoice.
Many commentators stress the importance that the giving of the First Fruits and it’s proper compliance, causes feelings of appreciation of what we have and realize that it is G-d that we should thank, praise, sing to, for the good in our lives.
Rav Kook shares in an essay entitled “Be Happy” that in the Mitzvah of bringing the first fruits, we understand, “you shall rejoice (simcha) in all the good the Lord your G-d has granted you and your family.”
In discussing the terrible trials mentioned, he indicates the root cause for punishments. From the Parahsa…”Because you did not serve the Lord your G-d with Joy (simcha) and contentment (Tuv Levav).” To not only keep the Mitzvot, but keep them with Simcha and Tuv Levav.
He defines Joy-Simcha as an unexpected boom that has befallen us and Tuv Levav being a sense of satisfaction, contentment to our service to G-d, to be grateful we have the spiritual capability to worship Hashem.
Rabbi Dr. Solomon Schechter in a delightful work on Simcha Shel Mitzvah, relates a story from the Tosefta commenting on last week’s Torah Portion of the forgotten sheaf, whereby to fulfill the Mitzvah one had to forget the gathering of a sheaf and then it belongs to the poor. A Mitzvah requiring one to forget! A Chassid was so happy that he actually forgot the gathering he told his son to offer up an additional sacrifice and then catered a banquet in celebration. His son asked “why father, all this celebration,” he responded “because it was a rare opportunity to be able to fulfill a difficult Mitzvah!” Schechter further comments that R.Bachye Ibn Chalwah says that the Joy accompanying the carrying out of religious performance is more acceptable to G-d that the Mitzvah itself. What a message to those of us that rush the Davening or kvetch when we hear we may experience a Drasha and learn something, or we can’t find someone to build the Succah for us.
This is a particularly poignant message now, with so many religious obligations and behaviors before us. If G-d really wants and expects this type of emotional experience from us, how do we achieve this ambitious aspiration.
Rav Kook goes on and in part offers a Heschillian prescription to achieve these states of Simcha and Tuv Levav ….. to seek and appreciate the significance and WONDER of every medium.
Heschel says “the surest way to diminish one’s understanding and appreciation of G-d, is to take little things for granted.”
We all well know what we have and the blessings given us. We know whenever we go out of our way to make our child smile, we smile and our connection grows. It is imperative, if what I write rings at all true, we find a way to delight in G-d’s ways so G-d smiles.
How do we bring that something more to our service to Him. We turn to Heschel, “In order to inspire greater joy and love of G-d, the Rabbis expanded the scope of the law…there is no generation which the Rabbis do not add to the law.” What can we add? Well, with the Succah it’s easy, a creative touch here and there. How about our time in front of our King. How can we bring our performance up a notch this year.
The Talmud relates that the Yom Tov of Rosh Hashana is the only Yom Tov where the moon is not visible. We know we do not recite Kiddush Levana (the blessing of the Moon) in the beginning of Tishrei as the Midrash shares, in order to trick Satan…in essence to stay away this holy time when G-d is in judgment of us. Maybe the moon like G-d is hiding* and G-d wants us to actively seek and appreciate the light in our darkness, in our shattered Gypsy cabs and feel the blessings within those angels in chiffon dresses he has given to us. He wants us to actively seek him by truly understanding, believing, feeling, and sharing the very truth, that without the Mitzvot we were chosen to fulfill, the life we know, the lives we know would be dark and the music silenced.
The Mishnah tells us, with the ceremony of bringing the First Fruits, there were flutes playing accompanying the procession. We must add music to our performance. I believe to focus and take wonder at that music in our souls will give rise to the Simcha and Tuv Levav that will strengthen the AWEsome bond between Hashem and our families. I’m thinking a Jazz niggun this year.
“When we open our inner life to a Mitzvah… and perform it, a tree is planted in the Divine Garden of Eternity” AJH
Harold – Zvi Hersch ben Naftali