Continuing the Journey From Rosh Hashannah Through Vayelech, Yom Kippur, Hazinu, Sukkot, Simchas Torah, Vezot HaBeracha and to our destination-The Beginning…Bereshith
In the last installment we addressed the questions of; Who are we really talking to? Why so many, many words and What do they accomplish? Now picking up on the question of Where are we suppose to Return to really? and then conclude with; What is the major goal? How do we approach the Genesis, our Genesis?
Where are we suppose to Return to really?
If you recall I concluded with the tragic story of the East Brunswick couple killed by a car on their Return Home from Shul and the interaction I had with a friend of theirs on Shabbat where we agreed that there are no words to be said. Also, during that interaction I happened to be reading Heschel’s essay entitled “Death as a Homecoming.”
While said essay is one focusing on issues of Death and theories on our path to the hereafter, many elements jump out as if it were written (it was not) specifically for Sukkot and in consideration of what our mindset should be during these days. Heschel writes– “The life that follows must be earned while we are here. …It is an in-gathering, the harvest (Succot represents the season of harvest ) of eternal moments achieved on earth.”
My intention is not to evoke a depressed nor sad response, rather one of a new found Exaltation resulting from our Journey this Holy season.
It appears to me to be more than a coincidence that there is a consistent underdone or messaging of Death during this entire Journey from Elul through Simchas Torah. Citing a number of examples;
    • Referring to no words, on Yom Kippur we read from Leviticus, where Aaron’s sons are struck down by Hashem and recalling that Aaron’s reaction is total silence.
    • We read The Akeida, recounting the near taking of Isaac’s life in sacrifice by his and our Father Abraham. Keep that Portion in mind as an answer to the question posed can be found there.
    • Citing just a bit in Slichot- “Woe Unto me when my Day comes. Then I will awake from my dream”
    • We hear the Parasha of Hazinu– Moshe’s Last Song where it is told he will not make his final destination in this world.
    • The Haftorah of David’s last song before his passing is read.
    • Yom Kippur is a day of Affliction, possibly to have us feel pains of the soul departing.
    • We read the story of Jonah during Yom Kippur where the Rabbis tell us one could not live three days in the belly of whale, it was a death experience where he had a contemplation of his ways coupled with a sincere response in his thoughts and words.
    • On Shabbat Chol Chomoed we read Kohelet- Ecclesiastes- Which could be received as a dissertation on the truths to realize in consideration of living a full life here before passing. Indeed, two powerful phrases relevant to what I am driving at communicate… The Day of Death is better than the day of Birth and It is better to be at a House of Mourning than a House of Feasting— why? One of the reasons we are told, that upon leaving a Shiva house and hearing words about one who lived, we take away a new appreciation of our lives, our relationships, new meaning to life and hopefully a new purpose to our entering the world again after the visit.
    • The Succah itself is specifically designed by Halacha to be a structure communicating to us the fragility of life.
    • Before we bless All the Children on Simchas Torah and experience Bereshith we read Vzot HaBeracha, giving everyone an Aliyah, perhaps allowing all to sanctify the portion of our leader Moshe receiving the kiss of Hashem as he Returns to the Ultimate Destination, the final Return.
If my assumption is correct, that is to surround us with thoughts of our passing, why? Why do our sages, Rabbis position the notion of Death throughout this Holy Seasonal Journey? In the essay cited Heschel says “….death is the test of the meaning of life.
That thought drives us to our resolution, to the essence of the goal posts of our drive to Return. When questioned by a priest on the Jewish attitude on the afterlife, why so little mentioned?; Heschel points out The Hebrew Bible is more concerned with life, lived. “The Jewish concern is not about the here-after but the Here Now!” In the essay “Death as a Homecoming” Heschel cites research showing that those with a terminal illness, those certain of a soon approaching passing, is less fearful of the death experience, but rather the crisis of “the waste of limited years, of unassayed tasks, the talents withering in disuse, the avoidable evils which have been done”.…misplaced energies, what could have been.
Now is our in-gathering, yes the harvesting of agriculture, our bearing fruit, a scrutinizing of our moments of the past year and our ambitions for the coming one to achieve “ remorse and repair for the past and taking responsibility for the future” and to make the absolute most of the moments to come and not just be, but live! If we truly absorb all that is prescribed to us now, to experience it with an open honesty then as quoted last week, the efficacy of the words of “prayer will reveal itself to those that want to fulfill it.”
The compilers of all these rituals, prayers, psalms, words we say wanted us to see our end to reinvigorate our new Beginning.
SOOOO……Where are we to RETURN to really?
Death is not simply man’s coming to an end, it is the entering of a new beginning.” AJH
I am not suggesting that our present course is to realize the Ultimate Return now. But, where are we so vested in Returning to? To the days of old-Temple Times? To the Exodus?To Hashem? To the next World?
I believe that our markers for Return are realized through the influences cited AND in particular as noted and presented to us daily in the Akeida. If truly experienced properly we receive a daily appreciation of life with the understanding of how to proceed in the concluding lines “ So Abraham RETURNED unto his young men and they rose up and WENT together….” Both Returned and Went have the letters of Shuva in them.
Immediately following Yom Kippur I turned on the news and saw an interview with an Experienced Extreme Skier who just escaped death from an avalanche that occurred prior to reaching the Summit of his recent expedition. Three of his friends were not found. He commented that his coming that close to death and reflecting on the experiences and bonding that occurred with his partners on the way up made him realize that reaching the Summit was not the essence of trip but in truth, found that the Journey is the Destination.
We must take that message with us now understanding that the Greatest of our Heroes, Avraham received the call and with his next Generation RETURNED and WENT, Moshe did not make the final destination in this world but where do we end up after our experience Moshe’s passing…..at the Beginning of our new Journey, our Return, the Return is to the coming Journey, our new, fresh adventures through the coming seasons of Torah.
What is the major goal? And How do we approach Genesis, Our Genesis?
The clues are there;
          • In Slichos we say “ for the iniquity when I was in the womb”
          • One could look at Jonah as being in the womb of the fish
          • In Hazinu the message of the Mother Eagle “that stirreth up her nest….beareth them on her pinions..”
          • For us, the Succah can be seen as a womb nurturing our whole selves till we re-enter the world
          • This is the season of planting new seeds
In Heschel’s piece on the homecoming, implying we will not be going to a strange place, he quotes Jeremiah ”Before I formed you in the womb I knew you” Is it then a Re-birth, a born again me that G-d is seeking? Is it a new me to hit the road of Return? Is that the Goal?
I don’t believe that is the major goal and that is why Bereshith…The Beginning of Creation is Presented Following Vzot HaBeracha…the last Parasha, the End of Moshe’s life. As shared in Part one of this essay….. “Marvelous and beautiful is life, More Marvelous and Beautiful is Life in a word….words are greater than the World, by the word of G-d all was created.” The Chiddush is not our re-birth but the process of our re-creating ourselves. That is what all the words are striving for. Jonah did not birth anew from the whale as a new person, it was a new understanding he had, readying himself for the coming Journey & growth toward his fellow man and to G-d.
We are in a womb like environment of the Succah and on the eighth day is a two fold yearning….ours, to cling to Hashem’s glory and G-d’s desire to have us stay close as parents wants our children to be around. But, I believe it to be a nurturing, contemplative period and like on the 8th day following birth, on Shemini Azteret… we make a Brit (covenant) with Hashem and ourselves, through our talkin to me..to exit the Succah filled with Torah on our re-entry to the world. On that eighth day there must be a Brit like the Brit Milah of a boy demonstrating that we are obligated to improve ourselves and to take a creative approach to our lives. Like a Brit Milah we must recognize that the work to perfect ourselves, to walk before G-d and be Holy, will take change, discomfort. If you analyze individuals that have recreated themselves or their institutions, they will tell you that taking on uncomfortable behaviors or altering safe routines are part and parcel of positive change….and Ultimately, it is exciting and rewarding.
Our greatest problem is not how to continue but how to Return.” AJH
We cannot just be in our Return, we have to live in all aspects of our lives. Heaven forbid, when someone asks “how’s it going?” we respond either professionally, personally or spiritually, with “Same old, Same old.” As Heschel says “to be is a blessing and to live is Holy.”
As shared in a previous piece, I feel that G-d’s most inspiring characteristic is one of being able to create something out of nothing and that the process of entrepreneurship, being a creator emulates that characteristic. A famous entrepreneur Joseph Mansuetto (founder of MorningStar)
answered my question to define entrepreneurship with “ it is a process of creative destruction.” What an appropriate, applicable concept in our tearing down our past off the mark behaviors while creating and adhering to new responsibilities on our Return to our next Journey.
The goal and our Genesis is not re-birth but a path, a journey to re-creating ourselves to engage in
G-d’s vision “Let us Make Man in our vision”. Heschel shares that with everything else G-d just uttered the words and it was created. With man, the words “Let us Make Man in our Image/Vision” communicates that this is on ongoing process destined for continual improvement. It is Hashem’s fantastic vision for us to fulfill and this Journey from Elul through Simchas Torah truly provides the words, rituals and inspiration to enthusiastically Return to our new Journey. The thing is, we have got to look in the Mirror and answer the question, “you talkin to me?” in an honest fashion, cause there ain’t no one else here.
Shabbat Shalom