Pleasure Seekers and Power Seekers

At the end of פרשת בראשית, the Torah describes Hashem’s disappointment with the creation of man. The Torah says, כי יצר לב האדם רק רע מנעוריו, that man’s nature is only evil from his youth.

Rav Soloveitchik’s assessment of this Pasuk is that man without laws is led in one of two directions. Either he is a pleasure seeker or a power seeker. Both of these tendencies were seen in the early generations of mankind.

The generation of the flood fit into that category of pleasure seekers. Their main purpose of existence was to do whatever felt good. If it meant taking the wives of someone else, this was justified in the name of pleasure. The Rav wrote that this is very much like today’s Western society where “feeling good”, becomes the definition of right.

The second group of power seekers was depicted by the generation of the Tower of Bavel, known as the דור הפלגה. The idea of might and power, and ruling over others, was the primary motivation of existence. Ultimately, that generation wanted to make a war with Hashem and rule instead of Him.

It became obvious that there was a need for a system of laws and an individual who could teach the world that man had a more noble reason for existence. Avraham Avinu proved worthy of such a task, as were his descendants after him. They were to teach the world morality and how to find meaning in acting in a kind and decent manner.

We Jews continue in this task of being “a light unto the nations.” Unfortunately, human nature has not changed which makes our role today as important as it was in the days of Avraham Avinu.

זיהום הנחש

Another term that is often used beginning with בראשית is the זיהום הנחש, or the pollution of the serpent. The Kabbalists believe that the evil serpent actually had relations with Eve, and this polluted her seed.

This pollution carried on for many generations. Every family was affected by this pollution. When the Torah gives the chronology of each generation, it only lists the one child that was not affected by that pollution.

Therefore, we see why Cain, Yishmael, Eisav, and others were problematic individuals. The Kuzari mentions that it was not until Yakov Avinu that all twelve of his sons were not affected by this זיהום. Because of this, Hashem decided to turn these twelve holy sons of Yakov into the nation of Israel. This is what is known as the זיהום הנחש.

צמצום

A term that is used to explain how Hashem created the world is צמצום, or constriction. The idea here is that Hashem’s greatness and true essence cannot be comprehended by man. This is because Hashem is on a completely different plane than man. Truly great people understand this and they remain humble for in comparison to G-d, they realize how small they are.

The inability to truly perceive G-d, forced Hashem to constrict Himself so that humans could get some kind of a glimpse of this holiness. What we are able to see is צמצום, or a fraction of what Hashem really is.

As we start the Torah over again with בראשית, it is necessary to restate basic principles connected with creation. We must never fall into a situation where we make assumptions where we claim that we can second guess how Hashem runs the world. צמצום helps drive home this point.

יש מאין

Shavua Tov. Continuing with the subject of יש מאין, Rabbi Soloveitchik points out that we emphasize this point every day when we say the אדון עולם prayer.

The words, בטרם כל יציר נברא, are translated as “Who reigned before any form was created.” The idea here is that we are to be reminded that Hashem created the world from nothing.

Many have difficulties with this concept. Human beings are capable of taking raw materials and turning such materials into something creative. A carpenter can turn wood into furniture. An artist can take paper and turn it

Into a beautiful painting. The same would be true of other craftsmen. In every case, it is turning something into something else.

This is not true with Hashem. He is capable of creating something where there was no raw material there before. Only Hashem can do this. This is יש מאין that is meant for us to be much more in awe of Hashem because of this.

שבת בראשית

This Shabbat is called שבת בראשית, as we begin the Torah once again. This year I will be using מסורת הרב as my primary commentary to the Torah. It is a new commentary compiled by Dr. Arnold Lustiger of the teachings of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, זצ״ל, also known as “The Rav”.

The Rav views the first chapter dealing with creation, as essential that the term יש מאין, something from nothing, be properly understood.

Unlike Greek philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle, who believed that G-d fashioned the world from some raw materials, the Torah taught יש מאין, that Hashem willed that there be creation, and so it was.

The Rav goes on to explain that the acceptance of יש מאין helps proclaim G-d’s dominion over the entire world. Our essence and very existence happens, because Hashem willed that it happen. This absolute dependence on Hashem is what helps give us prospective of who we are and what really matters in this world.

Perhaps this is why the Targum translated the word בראשית to mean בחוכמה, that with wisdom Hashem created the world.

Simchat Torah

As much as Shavuot commemorates the giving of the Torah, Simchat Torah is designated as the day we celebrate being given the ultimate gift. Shavuot is a recognition of the revelation at Mount Sinai. Judaism began with every Jew hearing Hashem speak. That was Shavuot.

Simchat Torah is our opportunity to rejoice and recognize how this book was the greatest gift given not only to the Jewish people but to all of mankind. The Torah would not allow man to sink to the level of the animal.

It was not enough that Avraham Avinu was charged with the task of teaching the world the idea of monotheism. The entire Jewish nation were meant to teach morality to a world that was interested in power seeking and self gratification.

We are expected to delve into the teachings of the Torah in greater depth each year. It is a good time to take upon ourselves to study the weekly Parsha with a new commentary so as to gain new insights and meaning to the greatest and holiest book ever written.

Stay Another Day

The last day of Succot that is known as שמיני עצרת and שמחת תורה, is considered a חג בפני עצמו, a holiday by itself. For this reason, we make the Bracha of שהחיינו for candle lighting and for Kiddush.

The Rabbis explain that Hashem initiated this holiday when He said the words, קשה עלי פרידתכם, it is difficult for Me to say good by to you. Hashem realized that the Jewish people were going back to their respective homes to begin the long, cold, winter. It would not be until the spring with the holiday of Pesach that all would again appear at the Beit Hamikdash.

The holidays of Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, and Succot, brought the people to a very high level of closeness to Hashem. It would have been a shame to have to end this connection so abruptly. Therefore, we were asked to stay another day and שמיני עצרת became its own holiday.

הידור מצוה

Succot is also known as the holiday that teaches us the concept of הידור מצוה, or, glorifying the Mitzva. This is learned from the words from אז ישיר that says, זה א-לי ואנוהו, this is my G-d and I will adorn Him.

We learn from here how we show that we love the Mitzvot. We are supposed to invest time and money to try to purchase the nicest Lulav and Etrog that we can afford. We also examine the Four Species to look for blemish free Arba Minim. We also try to invest our time and money in building the most beautiful Succa that we can.

A good test of our commitment to Judaism is our willingness to beautify and adorn all of the Mitzvot that we perform. We are never to view Mitzvot as a burden. And we are never supposed to regret monies that we spent in performing Mitzvot. All of this is learned from הידור מצוה and זה א-לי ואנוהו.

The Lesson of Kohelet

Moadim Lesimcha and Shavua Tov. The message of Koehlet that we read this morning is very clear. All worldly, materialistic pursuits end in futility. There is something inherently lacking in such pursuits.

Sometimes we encounter injustices in the physical world. The most worthy and honest individual is not always the one who succeeds. We deal with a court system that does not execute justice. In short, seeking fame, honor, or wealth, does not yield happiness and peace of mind.

The only thing that is worthwhile are spiritual pursuits. There is a great sense of satisfaction in lightening the load of our fellow Jews. Connecting to Hashem on holidays such as Succot, gives us a High based on holiness. We must remember that selfish people can never be happy. Only those who are givers find that sense of joy and satisfaction.

Koehlet helps give us a sense of perspective and purpose. It teaches what is worth giving emphasis and what is truly vanity of vanities.

Kohelet

Moadim Lesimcha. On שבת חול המועד, we read the book of Kohelet. It continues on the theme that we need to rethink our priorities and know what is important and what is not.

King Solomon gives vivid details about how he tried every possible pursuit in the physical world, and found that “all is vanity.” All that matters is to “Fear Hashem and keep the commandments for that is all there is to man.”

He also repeats the idea that “there is nothing new under the son.” All that we see about human nature and human endeavors has been seen before. Our Rabbis say that there may not be anything new “under” the sun, but there is a whole world that awaits us “above” the sun. This is the world of Kedusha and spirituality that knows no bounds and is available to all who pursue it.

Kohelet

There is more to the Mitzva of Lulav than taking hold of the four species and making a Bracha. The preferred manner of performing the Mitzva is to wave the Lulav in all six directions. This includes the four horizontal directions as well as upwards and downwards. This waving is called נענועים.

The meaning of these Na’anuim is mentioned in the Talmud in מסכת סוכה as follows: One waves to the four directions to Him who owns the four directions. One waves up and down to acknowledge Him who owns the Heaven and the Earth. That is to say that the four species is an allusion to G-d’s having created all of existence, and there is none besides Him.

One is supposed to do this waving with great Kavana and הכנעה, surrender, that everything in this world depends completely on Hashem. In short, the נענועים is meant to be a highly spiritual exercise. Chag Sameach

נענועים

There is more to the Mitzva of Lulav than taking hold of the four species and making a Bracha. The preferred manner of performing the Mitzva is to wave the Lulav in all six directions. This includes the four horizontal directions as well as upwards and downwards. This waving is called נענועים.

The meaning of these Na’anuim is mentioned in the Talmud in מסכת סוכה as follows: One waves to the four directions to Him who owns the four directions. One waves up and down to acknowledge Him who owns the Heaven and the Earth. That is to say that the four species is an allusion to G-d’s having created all of existence, and there is none besides Him.

One is supposed to do this waving with great Kavana and הכנעה, surrender, that everything in this world depends completely on Hashem. In short, the נענועים is meant to be a highly spiritual exercise. Chag Sameach

שהחיינו and Succot

The holiday of Succot has two special Mitzvot: Lulav and Succa. Each of them have the blessing of שהחיינו attached to it. We express extreme gratitude to Hashem for allowing us to live another year to observe these Mitzvot.

We generally say the שהחיינו the first time we sit in the Succa and the first time one makes the Bracha on the Lulav and Etrog. If one forgets to make the שהחיינו, he can do so all week long.

The Mitzva of Succa is unique. That is, if one were experiencing intense joy while building the Succa, he can say the שהחיינו even before Succot. He is thanking Hashem for the opportunity to do the Mitzva of Succa. He must remember that his שהחיינו for Succa is covered during construction. He does not make another שהחיינו on the first night of Succot when he sits in the Succa. One שהחיינו for each particular Mitzva.

חג האסיף

One of the names for Succot is חג האסיף, the Holiday of Gathering. This is because most Jews were farmers and by this time, they had gathered all of their crops. For this reason, it was also a very prosperous time for most Jews.

The message of Succot was to remind people not to get carried away with the temporary security that money can bring. There is a well known statement of the Rabbis that אין אדם מורד בהקב״ה אלא מתוך שביעה, that a person only rebels against Hashem when he is filled up. If all of his needs are met, he doesn’t feel that he needs Hashem.

Perhaps this is the problem in the Western world. People live in incredible affluence and comfort like no other period in our history. No wonder that so many have strayed from the path of Torah. Things are too comfortable. They don’t need to lean on G-d. They have everything they need.

Succot teaches that this is not true. We live a very temporary and fragile life. Hashem decides everything and in a moment, our lives can change dramatically for the good or for the bad. Our flimsy Succa with its shaky roof, gives us a week long reminder of the true reality of life.

Hashem Cries for His Temple

By now, as we begin to prepare for Succot, it should become obvious how much the Beit Hamikdash is missing in our lives. As beautiful as the holidays are in Eretz Yisrael, they are only a taste of what it was when the Temple was standing.

The Talmud in Brachot points out that not only do the righteous cry out every night for the Temple that was destroyed, but Hashem cries as well.

"The night consists of three watches, and at each and every watch the Holy one Blessed is He, sits and roars like a lion, and says, 'Woe to the children because of whose sins I burned My Sanctuary-and exiled them among the nations of the world."

Perhaps if we long for the rebuilding of the Temple as the righteous and Hashem Himself does, it will be built speedily.

First Day of Creation and Yom Kippur

Shavua Tov. Moadim Lesimcha. Rabbi J.B. Soloveitchik זצ״ל makes an interesting observation about Yom Kippur and the first day of creation. When the Torah says ויהי ערב ויהי בוקר יום אחד, the יום אחד, the "one day" refers to that one special day known as Yom Kippur.

The idea here is that ערב, or night, is a time of ערבוביה, or confusion. It also represents how darkness and hopelessness might infiltrate an individual. The Midrash makes this connection between יום אחד and Yom Kippur to say that without this special day, the world would not has been created.

This one day a year of renewal and reflection and connection to G-d is necessary to give the feeling of a new start. There is light after the darkness and there is always hope. The spark of the Divine in man is inextinguishable.

Relevant Confession

On Yom Kippur, there are a total of ten Viduys, or confessions, through the course of the day. The goal is to break the monotony of repeating the same thing over and over again.

There are many attempts to make our confession more relevant, by the various commentators of the Machzor.  For example, in the category of stealing, they might include stealing one's sleep. Or, pretending to buy something in a store and misleading the shopkeeper. Violating a confidence is an example of misusing speech.

The Rambam would suggest that we focus on correcting negative personality traits that we might have. These could be things like anger, pride, and jealousy. Whatever the case may be, we should try to make our וידוי meaningful and with content.

לשנה טובה תכתבו ותחתמו

אלה אזכרה

One of the most moving prayers of the Yom Kippur service, is אלה אזכרה, these I will remember, that is recited during Mussaf.

In it, the deaths of the עשרה הרוגי מלכות, or the Ten Martyrs, is described in graphic detail. In the context of the Avoda service, these stories are brought to show the results of our sins.

The message is that all of our suffering at the hands of tyrants through the ages, is directly because of our bad behavior. It can never be that for no reason at all, Hashem placed us at the mercy of cruel, evil oppressors.

At the same time that we learn that these ten saintly rabbis were being punished for the sins of Joseph's ten brothers, (Kabbalists claim that they were actually a reincarnation of the brothers!) we are also meant to gain inspiration from their faith.

We need constant reminders that our lives depend entirely on Hashem. Rabbi Akiva died a happy man as he was able to give his life knowing that he truly loved Hashem with his heart, soul, and body.

Although Rav Chanina Ben Tradyon was burned alive with a Sefer Torah, he saw only the parchment burn and the letters float towards heaven. Stories such as these are meant to inspire us with the knowledge that no force on earth can break the unshakable bond between Hashem and the Jewish people. We must connect with unshakable faith that our trusting in Hashem brings us the greatest happiness and peace of mind humanly possible.

Kohein Gadol

The role of the Kohein Gadol on Yom Kippur clearly takes center stage. The burden of the entire nation rests on the shoulders of the כהן גדול.

He enters the Holy of Holies several times during the day, seeking atonement for all of the Jewish people. A rope is placed around him in the event that he is proven to be unworthy. If he is unworthy, he dies and is pulled out by the rope.

Seven days before Yom Kippur, he leaves his home and makes preparations for the Temple service. He is not permitted to sleep the entire night of Yom Kippur.

He makes three confessions on one bull and two goats, with one of the goats, the שעיר לעזאזל, the scape goat, being thrown of a cliff. He confesses for his family, all of the Kohanim, and the entire Jewish nation.

The people witnessing these confessions are awe struck as he utters Hashem's holy name. They fall on their faces in prayer.

When the Kohein Gadol succeeds in his mission, his face radiates with incredible holiness. As the Machzor states, "Happy is the one who merited seeing the face of the Kohein Gadol on Yom Kippur. How sad are we that we have not witnessed it."

May the Temple be rebuilt speedily in our time.

Yom Kippur Temple Service

A major focus of the Yom Kippur service, is the Avodah, also known as the Temple service. We see how all of the holiness in Israel converge in one place on one day.

The holiest place on earth is Eretz Yisrael. The holiest city is Jerusalem. The holiest place in Jerusalem is the Beit Hamikdash. The holiest place in the Beit Hamikdash is the קדש קדשים, the Holy of Holies.

The holiest Jew was the Kohein Gadol. The holiest day of the year was Yom Kippur. All of these come together when the Kohein Gadol enters the Holy of Holies, only on this day.

Sadly, we have not been blessed to have lived to see the Kedusha of the Avodah on Yom Kippur. All we can do is read about it to get a glimpse of what it must have been like.

Thanks to the Temple Institute, their pictorial account of what went on helps us to visualize what took place. There is even a מחזור המקדש that has these pictures throughout the prayer service to help create a longing for the rebuilding of the third Temple.

Perhaps our longing for it, will help it happen more quickly. In the meantime, Yom Kippur is a good time to help us appreciate what it is that is so desperately needed to be a part of our lives.