Monday, September 23, 2002

The utmost example of true faith

The utmost example of true faith
Sept. 23, 2002


 This commentary is ususally concerned with political issues, about Hebron, or Israel in general. Other times it deals with human interest stories. As we are presently in the middle of the Succot holidays, tonight, I’d like to make a switch and give a short ‘dvar torah’ or religious analysis of our High Holy Days.

Our holy days begin with the Jewish New Year, Rosh HaShana.  They continue, ten days later, with Yom Kippur and conclude with the seven day Succot holiday, and finally, at the very end, Simchat Torah.

Looking as these holidays from afar, it might seem that we have the order mixed up. Everyone knows that Yom Kippur is a day of fasting and repentance. It would seem though, that this day should begin the year, rather than follow a week and a half into the New Year. Why should we wait so long for this most sacred of days?

This is, perhaps, the explanation. Rosh HaShana, the first day of the New Year, is a time of crowning, the crowning of the King, the acceptance of G-d’s rule. Should you live in a place where there is no accepted leader, then it follows that there is no law to obey. Only when a legitimate leader is accepted, can a population be held responsible for law and order, because there is someone to legislate, and afterwards, enforce the law.

So it is in Judaism. We say, every day, twice a day, Shema Yisrael, HaShem, Elokenu, HaShem Echad. This recitation is an acceptance that G-d is King, that He rules, that His law must be accepted and obeyed. Rosh HaShana is a special time when we return to the time of creation, to the beginning of the world, and recognize G-d as King of the Universe. It is as if the entire day is one big Shema Yisrael, as if we are repeating, time after time, that G-d is King. We crown him, acknowledging Him as Creator while recognizing His law. This is how we begin the New Year.

Once a leader has been accepted, it is then incumbent on his followers to do as he says. And so it is with us. Have accepted G-d as King, we must now follow his laws, which we call precepts or Mitzvot. These are G-d’s laws, as given to us in the Torah. For the next week we must examine all of our deeds, be they concerning our relationship to our fellow man, or to G-d, and try to correct them, ensuring that they conform entirely to G-d’s commandments.

This accomplished, we enter the holiest of days, Yom Kippur, a day of total repentance and purity, a day in which we request forgiveness for all we have done which has not conformed with G-d’s commandments, and accept upon ourselves a pledge to change our ways, and to walk only in the way of the L-rd.  This is a day of such purity that no physical necessities are needed, such as eating and drinking and the like.

Having reached this level of devout awareness, it might be expected that the next step would continue up a spiritual ladder. However, no, we are told to spend the next few days building a Succah, a little booth, made of wooden walls with a roof of reeds. Then, during the Succot holiday, we are told to live in this flimsy dwelling. During prayer we are expected to hold a lulov and etrog, a palm stalk and a fruit looking like a lemon, but not a lemon. How is it, following 10 days of spiritual uplifting, that we are commanded to deal with such material and earthly objects?

Again, the answer is not complicated. G-d did not create us as angels, rather he created us as human beings. One day a year we are granted the privilege to reach such spiritual heights that we can be compared to angels. But for the rest of the year, we must be people. Our goal is not to be angels, but to be men and women who sanctify what G-d has given us, in this world. So G-d commands us, take what I have given you, the wood and the reeds, the fruits and the plants, and make them holy, sanctify them, use them for good, use them as I have commanded you to. Don’t be angels, be people, but be people who use the creations of this world for holiness and not for evil.

So, for an entire week we live and eat in a Succah, with nothing more that reeds over our heads, knowing that our faith must be, not in what seems to be the permanent dwellings of our homes, but in the permanence of G-d’s protection over us, taking the physical and transforming it into spiritual.

Then on the final day, after seven days of Succot, we move back into our homes, but for an entire day celebrate the source of our commandments, the G-d given Torah. And this day, Simchat Torah, is a day of tremendous joy, when we dance in the synagogue and through the streets with the holy Torah scrolls, again proclaiming, this is our law, given to us by G-d, our King.

On this day we conclude that annual reading of the entire Torah and begin again, from the beginning, in the beginning.

Two years ago, here in Hebron, when the war began and the shooting began, many people thought that our community was on its last legs, that the attacks from the surrounding hills would lead, G-d forbide, to our imminent collapse. However, those thoughts were one hundred percent wrong. Despite the war, the Jewish Community of Hebron has grown, new families have moved into the community and we have continued to build and expand. Over the past month and a half, literally thousands have come to visit and pray here. Over this Succot holiday, tens of thousands are flocking to Hebron, walking the streets and participating in our Succot Music festival.  This is, perhaps, the utmost example of true faith and declaration of G-d’s Kingdom, here on earth, in Eretz Yisrael, in Hebron and Jerusalem, forever.

With blessings from Hebron,
This is David Wilder

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