Sukkot: A Festival of Joy, Gladness and Redemption

The festival of Sukkot begins tonight, Wednesday, October 4th.

Sukkot is one of the most joyous occasions on the Jewish calendar. It is deeply connected to the earlier High Holidays of Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, and is the culmination of the Fall festival period.

But on the fifteenth day of the seventh month (Tishrei), when you have gathered the produce of the land, you are to observe a festival to HaShem for seven days; the first day is to be a complete rest and the eighth day is to be a complete rest. On the first day you are to take a choice fruit [an etrog], palm fronds, thick branches, and river-willows, and celebrate in the presence of HaShem your G-d for seven days. You are to observe it as a feast to HaShem seven days in the year; it is a permanent regulation, generation after generation; keep it in the seventh month. You are to live in sukkot for seven days, every citizen of Israel is to live in a sukkah, so that generation after generation of you will know that I made the people of Israel live in sukkot when I brought them out of the land of Egypt; I am HaShem your G-d (Leviticus 23:39-43).

Sukkot is an agricultural festival, and recalls several themes:

  • Our wandering in the desert for forty years
  • Our dwelling in temporary shelters (sukkot)
  • Of G-d’s faithfulness in providing for us and our crops
  • Our regathering back to our Land
  • And of a future in-gathering of the Nations.

By dwelling in sukkot every year, we are faced with the reality of our human frailty and immortality. Just like the sukkah, our earthly bodies are but temporary dwelling places. When forced to dwell in a sukkah during the festival days, we find ourselves exposed to the elements, eating our meals without certain familiar comforts, and spending time in a shelter that at any moment could be brought down by weather.

So too it is with us. Our gufot, our bodies, are also fragile temporary dwelling places, where at any time, could be brought down. This reality forces us to recognize our dependence upon HaShem, who daily causes us to live. When we arise every morning, we say “Modeh ani … I am grateful unto you, O King who lives forever, for having once again, as I awaken, restored my soul unto me.” In this prayer, we acknowledge every morning that if G-d so willed, He could have chosen not to restore our souls unto us another day. So for giving us another opportunity to do His will, we give thanks to our Creator.

Sukkot is our ability to appreciate HaShem’s blessings. It is the recognition of our constant dependence upon G-d, and the culmination of the High Holiday season. Sukkot additionally marks the final conclusion of our pleas to G-d for a sweet new year, and for blessings in the seasons to come.

Sukkot also marks our ultimate messianic hope of salvation. For Sukkot is also known as Chag Ha’Asif, the Festival of Ingathering. For it is in this festival, we are taught, that a day will come when all nations will be gathered to Jerusalem and worship the one true G-d, the G-d of Israel. It is also the hope of the greatest Hoshanah Rabbah, when we will see Yeshua our Righteous Messiah return in all His Glory and regather the scattered remnant of His people.

Chag Sameach!

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Kol Nidrei: Tensions and Paradoxes of Yom Kippur

4991049347_74422fe281_m“All vows, obligations, oaths, and anathemas, whether called ‘ḳonam,’ ‘ḳonas,’ or by any other name, which we may vow, or swear, or pledge, or whereby we may be bound, from this Day of Atonement until the next (whose happy coming we await), we do repent. May they be deemed absolved, forgiven, annulled, and void, and made of no effect; they shall not bind us nor have power over us. The vows shall not be reckoned vows; the obligations shall not be obligatory; nor the oaths be oaths.” -Kol Nidrei Prayer

Tonight begins Yom Kippur – the holiest day on the Jewish/biblical calendar. The holiday always begins with Kol Nidrei, one of the most well-known Jewish prayers. Yet, the mysterious question is … why do we begin Yom Kippur with this strange prayer? What seems more bizarre is that it is not even a prayer at all but rather a technical legal formula.

Throughout the centuries, great rabbinic and halachic minds have actually tried to get rid of this prayer. The first mention of it is in an 8th century responsum by Rav Natranai Gaon. Most of the gaonim and rishonim apposed this prayer. Rabbeinu Tam, the grandson of Rashi, thought it was scandalous and should not be recited. Even Samson Raphael Hirsch, the father of Modern Orthodoxy, tried to do away with it in his first congregation in Germany. Yet this prayer has outlived all of its critics. Despite the repeated attempts in every generation to exclude this prayer, it’s still there. And interestingly, instead of the rabbis, it has largely been the common people who have chosen to keep it.

So what is it about this beloved and quintessential Jewish prayer? In my opinion, Kol Nidrei, and the halachic declaration right before it, can serve as an illustration of what Yom Kippur is really about, for within them are hidden lessons of the mysterious nature of this special evening.

wvkc3356176Tension, Mystery, and Paradox

First of all, Kol Nidrei teaches us about the tension, mystery and paradox of Yom Kippur. It has already been mentioned that Kol Nidrei is not even a prayer at all. Rather, it is a halachic declaration for the annulment of vows. For example, with all the beautiful parts of a wedding, it’s like singing the Ketubah. And yet, we “pray” it. Furthermore, Kol Nidrei actually begins our holiest day of the year.

On this holiest day when we stand before HaShem, you would think we would literally hear the sound of angels wings, float on clouds, and be engulfed by an incredible aura of God’s manifest presence. Although a degree of that does exist, we rather celebrate our holiest day by praying through long lists of sins, repeating ancient words in a foreign language, and discussing at length the role of the High Priest and sacrifices.

There is a tension that exists between our participation in heavenly worship with the angels on Yom Kippur and the realities of the earthly world we inhabit, with all its limitations. On Yom Kippur when we enter the synagogue and hear the sound of Kol Nidrei, we sense that something is different … something special … something holy.

On this holiest night of the year we stand before HaShem and are confronted by the same tensions within ourselves. Between the part of us that is holy and yearns to be re-united with our Creator, and the other part of us in need of atonement. Within each one of us is a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, a tension … a war within ourselves.

A Perceived Paradox

What is even more jarring than Kol Nidrei itself is the halachic formula we recite just before hearing the actual prayer:

With the approval of the Heavenly court and with the approval of the congregation; in the convocation of the Omnipresent One and with the consent of this congregation, we declare it lawful to pray with sinners.

Right away you should be struck by the wording, “we declare it lawful to pray with sinners.” It makes you want to look around the room, hushed, and wondering who this is referring to … when you realize this prayer is about you. That each one of us is a transgressor and sinner in need of atonement.

This tension is summed up nicely in a great teaching by Rabbi Bunim of Peshischa: Every person should carry two slips of paper. In one pocket should be a slip of paper which reads, “I am but dust and ashes,” and in the other pocket, a slip of paper which reads “the world was created for me.”

Throughout most of the year we are, as Paul writes in Romans (8:37), “more than conquerors through Him who loved us” and we “can do all things through Him who strengthens us (Phil. 4:13).” But on Yom Kippur, as the opening phrase of our service reminds us, we are all sinners in need of God’s grace and redemption. On Yom Kippur we are confronted not by our strengths, but our weaknesses. And the plural language of our prayers reminds us that we are all in this together and that we are only as strong as our weakest link. Each one of us is responsible for one another … and the sin of one of us, affects all of us.

It says in the Talmud (b. Shavuot 39a):

כל ישראל ערבים זה בזה … All Israel is responsible for one another.

That is why when we stand and recite the sins in the Al Chet, Ashamnu or Avinu Malkeinu, it does not matter whether you personally committed each sin, because someone in the room did and we are now all responsible. On Yom Kippur we are confronted by the reality that each one of us, as individuals, sin, and are personally accountable. But we are also reminded that there is a corporate accountability as well.

Paul wrote in his letter to his young disciple, Timothy:

So here is a statement you can trust, one that fully deserves to be accepted: the Messiah came into the world to save sinners, and I’m the number one sinner! But this is precisely why I received mercy – so that in me, as the number one sinner, Yeshua the Messiah might demonstrate how very patient he is, as an example to those who would later come to trust in him and thereby have eternal life. So to the King – eternal, imperishable and invisible, the only God there is – let there be honor and glory for ever and ever! Amen. (1 Timothy 1:15-17)

On Yom Kippur, we are reminded of the tensions and competing themes of the day, and the tensions and perceived paradoxes within ourselves. As stated above, on Yom Kippur we are confronted by the reality that each one of us is a “Chief sinner.” Within each one of us there is an inner-struggle and a battle between Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. On Yom Kippur we must ask, which one are you?

On Erev Yom Kippur we recite Kol Nidrei, and the halachic declaration right before it that it is now lawful to pray with sinners. And by doing so we are reminded of what Yom Kippur is really about and the hidden lessons of the mysterious nature of this special day.

G’mar chatimah tovah … May you be sealed for a great new year!

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Holiness, Justice and Reaching Out to Others

OutreachParashat Mishpatim

What can this week’s parasha, and the Torah as a whole, teach us about reaching out to others and drawing them close?

Our Torah portion begins:

Exodus 21:1

א  וְאֵלֶּה הַמִּשְׁפָּטִים, אֲשֶׁר תָּשִׂים לִפְנֵיהֶם.

1 These are the ordinances which you shall place before them.

The Torah then describes instructions for becoming a people of the covenant. But what does that mean exactly? To better understand, we’ll need to dig deeper into the Torah.

Justice as Holiness

Mishpatim is actually a continuation of last week’s parasha, Yitro. Therefore, we must go back to where Yitro leaves off … at the giving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai. The point is that the commandments of this week’s parasha are a continuation of those same mitzvot on Mt. Sinai. What, then, follows are primarily matters of justice:

  • The ethical treatment of slaves
  • Crimes of murder and kidnapping
  • Personal injuries
  • Damages through neglect or theft
  • Unfair business practices …

Such seemingly civil and tort matters are further mixed with commandments of social justice …

Exodus 22:20-23:

כ  וְגֵר לֹא-תוֹנֶה, וְלֹא תִלְחָצֶנּוּ:  כִּי-גֵרִים הֱיִיתֶם, בְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם.

20 You shall not taunt or oppress a stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.
21 You shall not afflict any widow, or orphan.
22 If you dare to cause them pain – for if they cry out to Me, I will surely hear their cry–
23 My wrath shall blaze, and I will kill you with the sword; and your wives will be widows, and your children fatherless.

So, again, what is the purpose of these seemingly juxtaposed mitzvot? Mishpatim provides an important insight into Judaism, and into Biblical thought: To G-d, there is no separate realm between ritual and spiritual matters (unlike within Western thought which separates the two). All areas of life are intertwined and holiness potentially binds them together. According to the Torah, concern for justice is a concern for the Holy.

Holiness is not some mystical, esoteric state of being. Rather, it is a way of life and a pattern of action. To “do holiness” is to partner with G-d in bringing redemption into the world. For example: The Torah considers the treatment of strangers a matter of justice, and repeatedly calls us to stand up for the downtrodden. WHY?  Because every person is created b’tzelem Elohim – Created in the image of G-d (Genesis 1:26-27).

Therefore, We must recognize justice as essential to holiness. Before we can attain deeper levels of holiness within ourselves, we must be able to recognize holiness within others.

So what does this teach us about Outreach?

Bringing people into our community requires seeing the reflection of HaShem within them, and welcoming them into our community.

A Lesson from Avraham Avinu

One of the greatest examples of hospitality in the Torah is Avraham Avinu … our great Patriarch, Abraham.

Genesis 18:1-8 describes the story of “Abraham’s tent” and his welcoming of the three strangers. According to Jewish tradition, his tent was open on all sides, meaning it was open and welcoming to all. The rabbis are quick to point out that Avraham’s hospitality is not passive. He was looking for guests! And not only was he looking for guests … the Torah tells us that Avraham RAN to not only meet his guests … but he ran to meet their needs as well:

“(v. 2) On seeing them he ran from the door of this tent to meet them.”

“(v. 6) Avraham hurried into the tent to Sarah, and said, ‘Quickly, three measures of the best flour. Knead it and make cakes!”

“(v. 7) Avraham ran to the herd, took a good, tender calf, and gave it to the servant who hurried to prepare it.”

According to the Talmud, hospitality is a great mitzvah. It is considered more important to show hospitality than to attend classes or to greet HaShem in prayer (b. Shabbat 127a).

A young person once visited the famous teacher known as the Chofetz Chaim. The guest had arrived at the synagogue just as Shabbat had begun after having been on the road for many long hours. He was hungry and very weak from having walked so far. After the service he was invited to the home of the Chofetz Chaim for Shabbos dinner, who noticed how weak and hungry his young guest was.

To the surprise of all his guests, the famous Chofetz Chaim skipped singing Shalom Aleichem (a prayer where we welcome the angels) and after quickly reciting Kiddush and HaMotzi began to eat.

“Why did you skip singing Shalom Aleichem,’ the young man asked his host. The Chofetz Chaim replied, “I could see that you were very weak and hungry. A hungry person should be fed as soon as possible. The angles can wait to be greeted.”

Yeshua’s Final Instructions

Yeshua commands us to “make talmidim” (Matttew 28:16-20). One of the roles of a talmid, according to Jewish thought, is to make other talmidim for their Rebbe.

In Luke’s version of this event, Yeshua tells his followers he is to begin in Jerusalem and then go out to the nations. They are to continue the work first among our own people, and then spread the message to the rest of the world.

Conclusion

In continuing that commitment, I feel it is vital to step-up our efforts at attracting other like-minded individuals and families to our communities. But we need new and creative ideas for how to reach out to,  and bring-in other Jewish and intermarried people. It’s time for fresh, out of the box thinking.

I might not have all the answers for how to do that, but what I do know, is that it must begin with recognizing justice and the way we treat others as an extension of holiness. Like Avraham, we need to run to greet those we feel would be a welcome addition to our congregation and to our movement … and draw them near to our Messiah.

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Choosing to be God Conscious

Parashat Toldot

What does this week’s Torah portion teach us about personal choices?

“Esau said to Jacob, ‘Pour some of that red stuff for me now, for I am exhausted. Jacob said, ‘Sell, as this day, your birthright to me.’ And Esau said, ‘Look, I am going to die, so of what use to me is a birthright?’ … Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew, he ate and drank, got up and left; and thus, Esau spurned the birthright (Genesis 25:27-34).”

Esau was faced with a choice, soup or a birthright? When offered the opportunity for spiritual blessings and rewards, the only thing that mattered to him was his own immediate physical needs. Esau ended up selling his birthright to Jacob, for he had no regard for the spiritual. So why does he still end up hating and wanting to kill Jacob? (Genesis 27:41)

Just like Esau, we too often make irrational decisions in the spur of the moment, and end up hating ourselves and others as a result. We often cast off spiritual values in an attempt to satisfy an immediate need. Yet in the end it is futile. The thing we once cast off ends up becoming the thing we most desperately desire. And when we cannot have it, we end up hating those who do have it, resulting in a vicious cycle.

“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything, by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to G-d (Philippians 4:6).”

Instead of living by our own irrationality, like Esau, we must become like Jacob. We should never by too anxious to make a decision. But rather, we need to be “G-d conscious.” We need to constantly be reminded of a greater spiritual reality.

Yehudah HaNasi states, “Consider three things and you will not fall into the power of transgression: Know what is above you – a seeing eye, a hearing ear, and all your deeds are written in a book (Pirkei Avot 2.2).”

Being “G-d conscious” requires being in tune with spiritual values. It also requires us to train our minds to think about the consequences of our actions. We must choose to make good choices. 1 Corinthians 10:5 encourages that we must “take every thought captive to the obedience of Mashiach.”

We all make choices. Sometimes, we may not even make the best ones. However, I challenge each one of us to begin to train our minds to be “G-d conscious” in every way. So when the challenge arises to place our needs above the highest (and holiest) needs, we will be able to make the right decisions. May we, like our ancestor Jacob, receive the blessing to make choices of blessings and shalom, and in the end merit the righteous birthright of our Messiah Yeshua!

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“Get Out!”

Parashat Lekh Lekha

GET OUT!” – G-d makes it very clear to Avram that only through self-imposed exile can he attain his ultimate spiritual potential.

Parashat Lekh Lekha, unlike our first two portions in Genesis, emphasizes this convergence between G-d and creation. According to the Lubavitcher Rebbe, the Torah thus far can be summarized as: Breishit describes the works of G-d; Noach describes the efforts of humanity; and Lekh Lekha describes the cooperation between humanity (Avraham) and G-d.

The opening phrase of our Torah portion, “Lekh Lekha” is usually translated “Go forth.” However, it can also be translated as “Go into yourself.” In this case, G-d is not just asking Avram to leave a physical place, G-d is asking him to delve into, and thereby, leave himself and enter into a covenant – a special relationship between himself and HaShem.

With a little help from the Lubavitcher Rebbe, the opening phrase can be further broken down into these personal applications:

  • Lekh Lekha (Go forth) …” – We must leave ourselves to reveal our true identities.
  • From your land …” – Alludes to leaving behind all worldliness, and all physical desires which keep us from growing spiritually.
  • From your birthplace …” – Requires abandoning our comfort zones and those practices we often do by rote (including spiritual acts done by rote like prayer and mitzvot). We must especially leave behind those negative habits we were brought up to follow.
  • From your father’s house …” – Alludes to our own rationalization, and our own perceived wisdom.
  • To the land that I will show you …” – G-d desires that we all should reach our spiritual land. As such, only G-d will lead us to and reveal to us true spirituality.

However, the secret to finding our true identities requires sacrificing ourselves and our own comforts and finding ourselves in relation to G-d. “Going forth” requires abandoning those things which hold us back, and pressing on to that which lies ahead.

The primary jewel we can glean from Lekh Lekha is faith. Like Avram, we may not always be able to grasp G-d’s desires for us. We may even doubt, just as Avram did when G-d repeatedly promised he would have many offspring. However, in the end Avram believed. No matter his doubts, he had faith that G-d would indeed fulfill His promises.

“And [Avram] believed in HaShem, and it was accounted to him as righteousness.” (Genesis 15:6)

By faith, G-d revealed to Avraham the mysteries of heaven, blessed him and his family, and led him into the Promised Land. The author of Hebrews further emphasizes:

“Without faith, it is impossible to please G-d, for whoever approaches Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him.” (Hebrews 11:6)

It is not enough just to believe that G-d exists. We must also believe that G-d is faithful to reward those who seek Him, just as Hebrews states. We must “Go forth!” We must exile ourselves from our comfort zones and away from ourselves so that in the end, when we finally step into the Promised Land, we will step into the place of destiny and blessing.

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Veterans Day

My paternal grandfather (pictured at left with my grandmother) served during WWII in the South Pacific in the Army’s searchlight and radar units. My maternal grandfather served in the Army in the Pacific during the Korean War.

My Dad also served our country as a Navy Seabee during the Vietnam War.

Monique’s maternal grandfather escaped Nazi Germany, joined the U.S. Army, and returned to Europe where he served in Army Intelligence during WWII, and helped liberate Dachau. Her paternal grandfather served as a midshipman in the Navy on the Battleship New Mexico.

From our families to yours, we want to thank all those who have served our country and wish you all a very Happy Veterans Day!

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Kristallnacht

Tonight, November 9-10, marks the 78th anniversary of Kristallnacht – the Night of Broken Glass.

It is called the “Night of Broken Glass” because on this night, in 1938, thousands of rioters stormed Jewish homes, businesses, and synagogues causing enormous amounts of damage throughout Germany and Austria.

Just before midnight on November 9, the Gestapo chief Heinrich Müller sent a telegram to all police units informing them:

“In shortest order, actions against Jews and especially their synagogues will take place in all of Germany. These are not to be interfered with.”

Instead of arresting the perpetrators of these events, police began rounding up and arresting the victims – Jews all over German occupied territories. Fire companies stood by synagogues in flames with explicit instructions to let the buildings burn. They were to intervene only if a fire threatened adjacent “Aryan” properties.

In two days and nights, more than 1,000 synagogues were burned or damaged, over 7,500 Jewish businesses were looted and ransacked, and at least 91 Jews were killed. Rioters also vandalized Jewish hospitals, homes, schools, and cemeteries. The attackers were often neighbors.

Some 30,000 Jewish males between 16 and 60 were arrested, and deported to concentration camps. Kristallnacht marked the official beginning of the Holocaust.

78 years later we still remember and will never forget!

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Creation and the Hidden Light

Parashat Breishit

The Torah relates the story of the six days of creation in order to refute other theories that claim that the universe came into being through some cosmic accident or coincidence. As such, the story of creation speaks only in general terms to illustrate that nothing came into being except at G-d’s command. The Hebrew word, bara, emphasizes this. The word bara, used here for “create,” grammatically can only be used in connection to G-d (never for humans), and alludes to the creation of something from nothing.

The Torah’s narrative of creation is meant to directly establish G-d as the sovereign of the universe. Unlike other creation accounts circulating around the Ancient Near East, the Biblical account makes no attempt to explain the origins of G-d, or try to persuade the listener of G-d’s existence. The existence of God is an axiomatic fact. Therefore it immediately jumps to the explanation of G-d’s creation of heaven and earth.

In verse three, G-d says, “’Let there be light’: and there was light.” However, if one reads more carefully, the sun and moon were not created until the fourth day of creation (see 1:14-19). Therefore, what is the “light” that is being spoken of? Interestingly, there are two possible answers.

Within Jewish tradition there are, of course, a wide variety of perspectives regarding Messiah. Yet, the pre-existence of Messiah, and the presence of Messiah at creation, has been discussed among certain Jewish writers throughout history.

A medieval rabbinic anthology commenting on this verse states:

‘And G-d saw the light, that it was good.’ This is the light of the Messiah…to teach you that G-d saw the generation of Messiah and His works before He created the universe, and He hid the Messiah … under His throne of glory. Satan asked G-d, Master of the Universe: “For whom is this Light under your Throne of Glory?’ G-d answered him, ‘It is for … [the Messiah] who is to turn you backward and who will put you to scorn with shamefacedness (Yalkut Shimoni on Isaiah 60).’

According to Midrash HaGadol, “The final goal of humanity is to attain the state of the days of Mashiach; therefore the name of Mashiach had to be formulated even before the world’s inception (Midrash HaGadol, 1:1).”

Another perspective in the Talmud relates:

It was taught that seven things were created before the world was created; they are the Torah, repentance, the Garden of Eden, Gey-Hinnom, the Throne of Glory, the Temple, and the name of the Messiah … The name of the Messiah, as it is written: ‘May his name endure forever, may his name produce issue prior to the sun (Pesachim 54a, Nedarim 39a, also Midrash on Ps. 93:3).’

The light, which some rabbis speak of as alluding to the Messiah can also serve as a representation of the “Ein Sof,” the hidden/unexplainable aspect of G-d. There is a midrashic legend that teaches that this light was hidden until the time of the Messianic Age, after which it will be once more revealed. When this happens, it will be like in the Book of Revelation (Rev. 21:22-23, 22:5, etc.), where there will no longer be any need of the sun, for G-d’s “Ein Sof,” His presence, will provide all needed light.

However, nowhere is the Messiah more clearly connected to the themes of light and creation than in the Gospel of John:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with G-d, and the Word was G-d. He was with G-d in the beginning. All things came to be through him, and without him nothing made had being. In him was life, and the life was the light of mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not suppressed it … the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw his Sh’khinah, the Sh’khinah of the father’s only Son, full of grace and truth (John 1:1-5, 14).”

May our divine Messiah, Yeshua, who was present at creation, continue to work in each of our lives to dispel the darkness, and make each of us into a new creation!

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Are You Listening?

 

Parashat Ha’azinu

The Hebrew word Ha’azinu means “listen.” It is a command to pay attention to the words of the song Moshe recounts to the Jewish people before his passing.

The verbs to “listen,” “hear,” and “pay attention to” are used many times, and conjugated in many different ways throughout the Torah; emphasizing the imperative to take the message seriously. It is also a beckon to delve into the words to hear what is not directly on the surface. It is a call to ask, “What is God really trying to say to me?”

All of us hear many things on a daily basis. However, how often are we truly listening? In any kind of relationship, whether it is a friendship or romantic relationship, there are often moments of miscommunication and lack of true understanding. This is often because we are not intently listening. We are often not paying attention to the subtle nuances, or to what is actually being communicated without being said (non-verbal communication). Due to so many distractions, we often let things go in one ear and out the other.

That is what God is warning the Jewish people against through the song in this week’s parasha. Moshe is pleading with the Jewish people not to stray from HaShem, but to listen to God’s instructions, and do all He commands us. It is vital that we not only heed the message of HaShem, but be careful to also put the words into practice. And not just for us, but for our children and all future generations to come. As this week’s parasha states:

Take to heart the words of my testimony against you today, so that you can use them in charging your children to be careful to obey all the words of this Torah. For this is not a trivial matter for you; on the contrary, it is your life! (Deuteronomy 32:46-47)

The role of the Jewish people is the responsibility of Kiddush HaShem – to sanctify the Name of God. This is what Moshe is charged with not doing at the end of Ha’azinu. Therefore, we must be careful to listen to the warning, to take heed not to stray from God’s commands, and to teach our children to follow God’s Torah.

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Yom Kippur: Life, Death and Proper Protocol

Tonight begins Yom Kippur – the holiest day on the Jewish calendar.

Traditionally, Leviticus 16, which deals with the proper protocol for the High Priest during the special Yom Kippur service, is read in the synagogue on the morning of Yom Kippur. The Torah introduces the Yom Kippur service immediately following the death of Aaron’s two sons, Nadav and Avihu. This demonstrates that there is a direct connection between this tragedy and Yom Kippur.

According to the Sages, part of the transgression committed by Aaron’s two sons is that not only did they offer improper offerings, but they entered into the Holy of Holies, which only the Kohen HaGadol (the High Priest) is allowed to do. Rabbi Eleazar ben Azariah (First Century) comments that either sin would have been enough to warrant their death. As a result, the entire rest of the chapter deals with the proper protocol of Yom Kippur and the order for the High Priest to enter into the Holy of Holies.

It is taught that Moses’ long process for seeking forgiveness on behalf of the Jewish people for the sin of the Golden Calf ended on the tenth day of Tishrei (Yom Kippur) when he returned with the second set of tablets. That day became associated with forgiveness. The Torah, in several references, goes into great depth as to the specifics of Yom Kippur and the proper way of observing the most holy day.

The obvious question is why the Torah goes into so much detail regarding the observance of Yom Kippur? The Jewish holidays are known as mo’edim. The word mo’ed, in Hebrew, is best translated as a divine set/appointed time. It is a time when G-d chooses to meet with us. Yom Kippur is our opportunity for a supernatural encounter, and the day G-d’s forgiveness and mercy is most abundant. G-d wants to be in relationship with us, and Yom Kippur is our opportunity to perfect ourselves and prepare ourselves to be used by G-d in the coming year.

According to Tosefta Rosh HaShanah 1.13:

“All things are judged on Rosh HaShanah, and their fate is sealed on Yom Kippur.”

Beginning on Rosh HaShanah, when the Book of Life is opened, and judgment begins, the shofar is sounded to call our souls to repentance. The Rambam states that the shofar beckons our souls to:

“Awake, you sleepers, from your sleep! Arise, you slumberers, from your slumber! Repent with contrition! Remember your Creator! (Hil. Teshuvah 3:4)

The shofar serves to call us to teshuvah (to repentance), and for G-d to act mercifully toward us and pardon us for our shortcomings.

G-d gives us the opportunity of the High Holiday period to prepare ourselves and make things right with both our Creator, and with those around us. The Torah is concerned about all these details because G-d cares about protocol. Each detail on Yom Kippur teaches us that it is not about ourselves. That the world does not revolve around us. Each one of us is reminded of our ultimate fate and judgment on Yom Kippur, and our individual, as well as corporate need for atonement.

Yom Kippur is also a reminder of G-d’s mercy and ability to bring atonement for our shortcomings. According to Hebrews 9:6-28, Yeshua is our Great High Priest, and it is through him that kapparah, that atonement for sin has already been made. By seeking to truly make things right this Yom Kippur, and to carefully observe G-d’s instructions regarding this most holy day, let us merit the sealing of our names in the Book of Life, and the ultimate assurance of our atonement through Yeshua. May the final shofar blast at the end of Ne’ilah, the final Yom Kippur service, truly be the blast which announces the arrival of our long-awaited and beloved Messiah!

G’mar Chatimah Tovah – May you be sealed for a wonderful New Year!

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