Sunday, September 29, 2013

After Succos

Succos-it’s over
It passed
But it shouldn’t really be over
It should be something that passes us by
It should be something
Something we internalize
Something we grow from
So many special days
So many days of connection
Of family time
Of shul time (for some)
Of home time (for others)
Of taking care of kids (for me!)
Of enjoying our families

But somewhere in middle of those days
Did some inspiration creep in?
Are we closer to Hashem now?
Did we learn to rely on Him more
Did the sukkah teach us
Just how dependent we are on Him?
Did we breathe in the cool (warm) air
While we were outside?
And let the emunah seep into our bones
While we felt the wind blowing softly?
While we felt the sun shining down on us?
Felt Hashem’s love
Felt Him taking care of us?

Did we let the hashpa’os of succos
Enter our souls?
Are we more connected now?
Are we more aware now?
Of how much He does for us?
How much we need Him in our lives?
Of how we want to be better?
Different, maybe?

So many days
Yamim Nora’im
Awesome days
Days of closeness-perhaps
Days of connection-hopefully
Days of introspection-sometimes
Busy days-for sure
What do we come out with
When we are done?

There’s a lot more to Simchas Torah
Than dancing just for fun
(Or watching the men run
Round and round
Clapping to the happy sounds)
Torah-it’s our life
It’s the way we want to live
It’s the goals we aspire to
And so, so much more
(No way to fit it here
That’s for sure!)

Watching people who immerse themselves
In our holy books
Their faces look
So happy
So shining
So joyful
That living a life of Torah
Following our Torah
Brings so much joy
(And sometimes pain)
Yet there’s so much to gain
When we follow the right way.

May we all be able to
These messages
Grow from these days
Instead of just letting these days pass
Like a thing of the past

We made it through
Yes we did it-
Three 3-day yomim tovim
It may have been tough
We may have thought-enough!
Enough food
Enough noise
Enough messes
Enough toys

There is something special to take
From these days
And if we take something special
For ourselves
In our hearts
From these days
We will know
We did
What we were supposed to
We grew
And that’s what we’re here for.
Every day.
At every moment in our lives.
May this year be filled
With many opportunities for growth.

Keep climbing!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Succos-Strengthening Our Emunah

Every yom tov is meant to instill deeper levels of emunah into our hearts. 

Succos is a special yom tov that comes after the inspiring days of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. On Rosh Hashana, we remind ourselves once again that Hashem is the King and Ruler of the world. We are mere mortals and everything that happens to us is in His hands.

Anu tzonecha v'ata ro'einu-you are our Shepherd...we depend on you for every little bit of sustenance. Just like the sheep walks after the shepherd, following every step...we follow Hashem too and He takes care of us, nourishes us when we are thirsty, physically and spiritually. Sometimes we see it physically, when we rely on Hashem for things and He gives us exactly what we need and other times we can even see it spiritually-if we look out for it-we will see how He sent us the people or inspiration to help us move forward and grow exactly at a time we needed it most. Or He may put us in a situation where we feel like we must turn to Him and only Him, thereby strengthening our connection with and trust in Him. We don't ask for it...but when we grow from our life and our challenges, we know that there was a higher purpose to whatever happened.

On Yom Kippur, we stand before Hashem and attempt to cleanse ourselves from our spiritual lowliness, admitting to the times we fell, acknowledging that although we are human beings and we stumble daily, we want to be better, we want to be different. We ask Hashem to forgive us for the past. We look inside our hearts and remember things only we know about ourselves...and ask Him to see inside our souls, to see the person we want to be...and to help us get away from the things we wish we would never have done and to help us move forward towards spiritually better people.

Succos is a whole different yom tov. It is a time where we leave our homes, our comfort zones and we put into practice the things we already know in our heads. We leave our homes-why? To show-with actions-that we rely totally and completely on HaKadosh Baruch Hu. That the material things we have do not matter. What matters is not the fancy house, the outer trappings...what matters is what is going on inside our souls. Of course, we still make the mitzvos beautiful, we adorn our little huts, our temporary houses with all sorts of decorations...but we remind ourselves on a deeper level about what really is important in life. 

At the end of our lives, we will not take those things with us, not the chandeliers and not the fancy napkin rings. Not the clothing or the money or the shoes or the jewelry. Yes, we use the things we have to enhance our yom tov, to make nice dishes in honor of the special day, to serve them beautifully so we feel the joy of this holiday. When we use the things we were given to make yom tov more beautiful, that is a mitzvah. But we know that these things are not just for having-they're for elevating. They're for sharing. The most beautiful sukkah is one that is adorned with guests. :-)

And we leave our homes to remind ourselves Who we really rely on for the materialistic things we need, for our parnassah. When we leave our homes, we are in essence saying, Hashem, I am leaving my home because I want to show how I am totally dependent on you. I go out of my comfort zone, I go out of the house that belongs to me, the place I own and I go into Your shelter. I am under Your wings. You are the One who protects me always. You are the One who takes care of me at all times. It is You who provides for me and gives me every single thing I need. I am out in the open, under the clear blue sky, under Your sky. 

I know that everything comes from you. I know that everything I have comes from Your giant, unlimited hand. And I know that if there is anything I ever need, I can turn to you and ask for it. You are the Source of all that I have, all the bounty I have been blessed with and you are the only One who can...and will...give me everything I will ever need.

May you be able to enter the sukkah with these thoughts in mind and continue to strengthen the emunah you have in Hashem. May the things you know in your head but don't yet feel in your heart travel through that long a great rav once said-the greatest distance to be traveled in this world is from the head to the heart. May you be able to use this yom tov to connect to Hashem on an even deeper level, internalizing the things you already know...and may it be a truly Chag Sameach for all of you!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Never Too Late

I posted this two years ago. It's a long one-but it is so powerful and inspiring and so worth the read and the message!

Chazzal teach us that Chizkiyahu Melech Yehudah was amongst the greatest leaders of our people. He enacted laws that would cultivate Gedolim and Talmidei Chachomim in all of Klal Yisroel and our people flourished under his reign. Yet, Chizkiyahu saw with prophecy that he was destined to have a child who would be as wicked as he was righteous. He was thus afraid to produce a child. However, he was advised not to engage in influencing and tampering with the destiny and master plan of Hakadosh Baruch Hu. It was not his 'cheshbon' to influence the heavenly ordinances.

He understood the message and bore this child whom he named Menashe. Sure enough, Menashe grew up to be one of the most wicked people in our history. Where his Father had promoted spirituality, Menashe stifled it. Under his reign, our leaders were killed and their "blood flowed through the streets". Torah learning was forbidden and idolatry carried the day. Chazzal tell that Menashe was ultimately captured by opposing forces and thrown into a cauldron of burning water. As he lay trapped in the water with his flesh burning off his body, the Gemorah says that he began to call out to all of his idols by name, imploring them to save him from his predicament! He begged this idol, the other idol etc. Of course, none of these idols whom he had worshipped his entire life, came to help him in his time of need! Finally, the Gemorah relates that when Menashe was at the end of his rope, so to speak, he called out to Hakadosh Baruch Hu with the following proposal:

He said "Hashem, please help save me from my predicament - for if you do not, then "kol anpin shavim" - You are all the same! Meaning; - Menashe was telling the Ribbono Shel Olam - "look, I called out to all of my Idols and they could not help me. Now I am calling out to you. If you cannot help me either, then you are just like them; you are all the same!

The Gemorah relates that the Angels quickly intervened and closed the Sharei Shamayim (Gates of Heaven) so that the pleas of this Rasha would not reach the Kisei Hakavod! What happened next is a complete mystery. Hakadosh Baruch Hu "drilled a small hole" in his heavens to allow the voice of the dying Menashe to come up to his throne and he proceeded to save Menashe's life in a most miraculous way (as the Gemorah tells).

This story is a complete mystery!

For one thing, why did Hashem decide to save the life of this Rasha - who had spent his entire life rejecting Hakadosh Baruch Hu while attempting to wipe out all vestiges of spirituality from our people? Moreover, when Menashe finally did reach out to Hashem, look at the seeming Chutzpah with which he approached this! He actually makes conditions with Hashem! He equates Hashem with his worthless idols and says that If Hashem doesn't help him, then he is the same as the rest of those idols!! The sheer chutzpa of this statement! Of course the idols were not in a position to save him! They cannot! However, if Hashem were not to save him, it would be completely justified...after all, he didn't deserve it!

There are really two puzzling questions here
  1. Why did Hashem save him?
  2. What was the meaning behind Menashes cryptic and seemingly brazen plea to Hashem?
The answer to these questions is incredibly beautiful and a lesson for all of us.

Menashe's plea to Hashem was beautiful and profound in its depth. He was actually telling Hakadosh Baruch Hu the following:

"Look, I know what a Rasha I have been all of my life and that I am completely unworthy of your salvation. However, my Father (Chizkiyahu) always taught me as a child, that our Father in heaven displays kindness without boundaries or limitations. I was taught that your mercy for your children is without borders and not impeded by and contained within the framework of any yardstick or measure. Therefore, if you do not save me now in my time of need and despair, this would be an indication that I have simply strayed too far and that I am beyond salvation. This would mean that it is actually possible for a human being on this Earth to sin so badly, that he would actually place himself beyond the scope of your mercy. This means by extension, that your mercy is finite; that it is limited by the constraints of finite boundaries. If this is the case, then you are not the Hashem I was taught about in my youth!!

Upon hearing his pleas, the Malachei Hashareis moved quickly to block his prayers from advancing to the Kisei Hakavod. However, Hashem destined otherwise. Hashem created an opening for Menashe's tefillos to reach his heavenly throne and he actually granted him his request and saved his life!


Hashem wanted to make an example of Menashe and to teach all future generations that it is never "too late" to do Teshuva and to repent. Indeed, there is no such thing as a Jew straying too far from the fold...there is no such thing as Hashems' patience and mercy being overridden by the sins of a Jew.

No Jew is ever beyond salvation, because G-Ds' mercy and patience is without boundaries or limitations!
Indeed, the lesson we take from Menashe ben Chizkiyahu Melech Yehudah, is both profound and timely. It is never too late for a Jew to do Teshuva and come closer to Borei Olam!

Heard From Rav Shimshon Pincus zt"l;