Ah, Elul, S'lichot, the Yamim Noraim, the Days of Awe, Rosh Hashanah, Tashlich, Yom Kippur. We look at ourselves, examine our behaviors, apologize and ask forgiveness for our wrongs against Gd and our wrongs against each other.
Phew! What a relief to be rid that stress for another year. Finally, a joyous holiday-Sukkot. We enjoy the abundance of the harvest, we enjoy the company of friends, strangers and ancient guests in our sukkot.
Not so worried about those sins at the moment, are we? Funny how that goes. Yet, even at the break fast party I attended, I already found myself engaging in behavior I promised I would try to not do. Several of us at the party joked about how Yom Kippur was barely over, and here we were racking up sins to atone for at next Yom Kippur!
Maybe that's why we need this not so subtle reminder we get in the special pareasha for Shabbat Hol Hamoed Sukkot.
True to form, we get the candy first:
Adnai, Adnai, el rachum v'chanun...
Ex. 34:6 "The Lord! the Lord! a Gd compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in kindness and faithfulness, 7 extending kindness to the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin;
And then the attention getting reminder:
"yet [Gd] does not remit all punishment, but visits the iniquity of parents upon children and children's children, upon the third and fourth generations."
Yuck. Continuing punishment for misdeeds. Not only for us, but our descendants. Not a pleasant thought at all, is it?
Why this "qualifier" on Gd's own self-description (for it is Gd his/her/itself who utter the words of 34:6-7) ? Is it necessary? After all, Gd didn't say "forgiving EVERY iniquity, transgression and sin." So isn't it implicit that there is a limit to even Gd's compassion and loving kindness? Ah, but we ARE a stiff-necked people, as even Moshe goes on to remark to Gd, still asking for forgiveness for them and for himself.
After all, mere moments after the end of Yom Kippur, there were I and my friends, obliviously sinning away again, and joking that we can just atone for them a year hence. Yet here we are reminded that our sins can have lasting consequences and that there is a limit to even Gd's tolerance. It's a reminder I think we all need.
Oh, sure, this idea of a retributive Gd, visiting punishment upon children and grandchildren for the misdeeds of their forebears, offends our modern sensibilities. We look over it, we do not press it. We concentrate on the slow to anger every compassionate Gd.
I submit that it might be good to concentrate on this first words that describe a compassionate and forgiving Gd-because we can learn how to avoid the second half-the continual punishment that might befall us and our descendants. For if we can be compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in kindness and gentleness, then we'd probably stand a far better chance of learning to avoid sinful practices.
So let's not be so fast to forget Yom Kippur, and be mindful of our behaviors and our sins. Let's not be in such a hurry to put that period of contemplation and self-examination behind us. Not so fast, children, not so fast...
Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach,
©2001 by Adrian A. Durlester
The cycle comes around again. Fresh from our self-evaluation of the New Year and connection to our roots that Sukkot so poignantly reminds us of, we reach the end (or is it the beginning ?) of "this blessing" that the One bestowed upon us through Moshe, Torah. We get a fresh chance to again hear, read, and learn from these ancient words.
There, that sounded sufficiently religious, no? How easy it is, with mere words, to convey a deepness, a richness, a spirituality that may indeed only be superficial. How easily we can be moved (or led astray) by words that have the "just right" flavor for a religious "sound byte." But life isn't about platitudes, carefully crafted homilies, and simplified reductions of complex thoughts. It's about living. Living our words. Living our deeds. Living our faith.
Sharing a message that has all the earmarks of a "Hallmark" card is easy. As is, given the proper scholarly study, sharing a message that purports to bring the unlearned to greater understanding. One could easily jump from link to link on the web and create a message with impressive scholarly content.
None of this is meant to imply that anything written or spoken by anyone else isn't what it purports to be, or has any less intrinsic value than anything else said by anyone else. This message is about a personal commitment. One I am making and would recommend to you, chaverim. As we renew the cycle of reading Torah, it's an appropriate time to make a commitment to ourselves for using this next yearly cycle to truly study (or study further) the words of the Torah. We should (and must) turn for assistance in understanding them to the many in past ages and in our own that have shared their own insights and thoughts. But we need first look in our own minds and hearts, and not discount our own interpretations, nor disregard them simply because they may disagree with the interpretations of another of greater repute.
Be a scholar unto yourself.
-----------Some additional thoughts for 5760-------------- I wrote a paper the other day for a theology class. It was about revelation and scripture. I based it on my favorite piece of Torah-Deuteronomy 30:11-14. This is the "lo bashamayim hi" speech. To me, it says that we humans are an integral part of the revelation of Gd. Intermediaries not required. The Torah is not in heaven, not across the sea, not too baffling for us. It is there for us to understand and interpret. (Surely by now we all know the Talmudic story of Rabbi Eliezer and the Bat Kol. If you don't, ask your local rabbi or sage. Sadly, the all important last part if often left off - the part in which Gd states "My children have defeated me.")
We must be cautious, however. Emanual Levinas writes in an essay on "Revelation in the Jewish Tradition" that we must not "leave revelation to the arbitrariness of subjective fantasies." How true this is. But we must also not be afraid to explore the text and see what we find. For only when we seek the Torah as near to us will we find it where it has been all along: in our mouths and our hearts.
================================================= Some additional thoughts for 5761
These are trying times. No matter the Jewish activity one is engaged in, it seems impossible not to be thinking about events in Israel. It is my fervent prayer that next year, at this time, when I again circulate this annual Simchat Torah musing, that Israel and all its inhabitants will be blessed with peace.
This was my first year teaching Judaics and Hebrew to the 1st and 2nd graders at Nashville's Akiva School. And while I had been teaching since late August and had the oportunity to enlighten these wonderful, eager and bright-eyed students about the parashat hashavua since then, I still found this Simchat Torah somewhat of a milestone, a marker, a symbol of a fresh beginning, a chance for a new reading. For, as I work to make the Torah fresh and available to these 1st and 2nd graders, as I have done for older students before, I, too, am learning new ways into the text, and new ways to help others find their way into the text as well-especially these young ones.
No experience serves to reinforce the lesson of the 4 sons from the Pesach Seder, or the interpretation of the 4 species of Sukkot as 4 types of Jews, more than these experiences in teaching 1st and 2nd graders Torah. The theological depths to which their young minds can extend continually amaze me. Why just today, a 1st grader asked "who created Gd?" That's one kind of student. Later, another student, a practical one, asked why the Torah scrolls weren't mounted on some kind of motor, so they could easily be rolled to where they needed to be. Another asked if it was OK to dance with the Torah even if he didn't think it was all true. And then there's the quiet one. You really can see the wheels turning when you look at his face, but he just can't seem to express what he is thinking. To him, I think, Gd may bestow the gift of deep and keen understanding of the Torah. Would that I am a good enough teacher to enable this young boy to grow into a man who knows how to share his insights. For, while Torah herself tells us she is not too baffling, that she is not inaccessible, as we grow and mature, it seems our ability to understand is impaired by the baggage we accrue. We need to find a way to keep the innocence of youth as part of our view into Torah.
So, even in these troubled times, reasons aplenty to rejoice with the Torah as we celebrate the start of another cycle.
-----------------Some Additional Thoughts for 5762-------------
Yet another new beginning for me, here at my new congregation, new religious school, new community. Not the 60 or so students from wonderful Akiva school in Nashville, but now the 360 students at Beth El in Alexandria, VA.
I don't have as much of the one-on-one experience with the students, not being in the classroom teaching all the time, but I do still see the sparkle in the eyes of students, the furrowed brows of questions, and pensive look of those lost in thought, seeking answers to new questions. I'm working very hard every day to respond to them not with platitudes, or appropriately religious sounding phrases, but rather with the true language that comes from realizing that the Torah is a gift I can share with each of them.
Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach.
©1995-2001 by Adrian A. Durlester
Some other musings on thisparasha:
Simchat Torah 5764-Circling the Torah--A Story of Chelm
Simchat Torah 5763-Unbroken Circle (5757-5763)
Simchat Torah 5761
Email Me A Comment!