Rabbi Yossi's Blog

Welcome to Rabbi Yossi's Blog; where you can expect to find thoughts on current events, Torah learning and Jewish spirituality. And of course, some good Jewish humor.

It ain't over till it's over!


That’s right - it ain’t over till it’s over. Whether you joined us for Yom Kippur or went elsewhere, or even if you didn’t go anywhere at all, if you thought that the High Holidays ended with Yom Kippur, think again! This Sunday night begins Sukkot and what was able to be spiritually accomplished over Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is still able to be accomplished, only now with added joy!

Now, if you’re like so many Jewish people I know, you’re probably wondering: more!? I barely made it through Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur!? Now you want me to celebrate another Jewish holiday?

On Rosh Hashanah we accept Hashem as Master of the universe and on Yom Kippur we atone for any misdeeds over the past year. What else is there left to do? What do we hope to accomplish on Sukkot?

In one word: Integration. Integration of our lofty ideals into our daily life.

You see, on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur we spend many hours in prayer, enveloped in holiness; distancing ourselves from the distractions and realities of the outside world. We may even be inspired to make some positive change in our life. But then the holidays are over, reality sets in and we realize that we’re just where we started. How do we bridge the gap from our lofty ideals to literal implementation?

The answer is Sukkot.

Sukkot is not just an afterthought on the High Holidays, it’s not just another Jewish holiday; Sukkot is huge. Sukkot is quite literally about shifting our very perception of reality.

During Sukkot we move from the permanent structure of our home to the temporary Sukkah. We very tangibly remind ourselves of the true source of permanence in our life, Hashem.

Why are our ideals difficult to implement when they meet the reality of our lives? Because we tend to look at our lives and the stuff they’re made of as “permanent.” There are social norms and constructs that we “have to” adhere to and “we can’t just ignore.”

When we celebrate Sukkot we internalize the concept that in fact Hashem is the most “permanent” in this world. Suddenly it’s not difficult to align our lives with that permanence - the difficulty only surfaces when we feel that our lives are the permanent feature. We can’t imagine how we can connect the two - Hashem and our life. But when we realize that all reality is actually part of, and one with, Hashem, nothing can interfere with implementing these ideals.

The key then, to the entire High Holidays experience, is to properly celebrate Sukkot. I hope you will join us!

Should the defendant really rise?

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons 

Rosh Hashanah is upon us. And what an enigmatic holiday it is. We call it the “Birthday of the World,” yet we also call it the “Day of Judgement.” Imagine if when you were a child your birthday would have been “celebrated” as a Grand Day of Judgement, on which your parents would decide whether to keep you or give you up for adoption. Your birthday parties would have traumatic - not an event that you would anticipate with excitement. Imagine the psychological damage such an experience would cause to a vulnerable young child!

Yet when it comes Rosh Hashanah we’re somehow supposed to be inspired by the notion of it being a Day of Judgement. Am I missing something?

The truth is that the common understanding of the whole judgement concept is misunderstood. It’s not about judgement in the usual sense, whether we deserve to be granted a year of blessing or otherwise. It’s about us judging ourselves and choosing to re-engage in G-d’s master plan for the universe.

Allow me to explain: On Rosh Hashanah we sound the shofar. And when we do we are reminded of a significant time in history when the shofar was sounded. On Mount Sinai, when G-d revealed Himself to the Jewish people, the G-dly revelation was manifest through sound. Specifically, the sound of the Shofar.

At Mount Sinai G-d was calling each of the assembled - and all of us - to take part in His master plan for the universe. G-d gave us then the ability to contribute, in a meaningful and integral way, to fulfilling the great purpose of creation - making this world into a G-dly world.

This then is the judgement of Rosh Hashanah: It is our own judgement - do we want to play a role in G-d’s master plan or do we want to merely take up space in His world?

It’s a highly significant question and it has major ramifications. But it’s not a harsh judgement at all, in fact it’s the most amazing career advancing opportunity that we could ever hope would come our way.

And it’s being presented to each of us on Rosh Hashanah. My advice? Grab the opportunity!

The G-d Syndrome

Walking into the waiting room of a psychiatrist, the salesperson noticed one of the patients sitting upright with his hand in his shirt. Curious, he turned to the individual and asked why he was sitting in such a peculiar manner. “What’s with the hand in the shirt?” he asked. “I am Napoleon,” came the reply. “Really?” he asked, “how do you know? Who told you?” “G-d. G-d told me.” “Napoleon” replied.

Suddenly, from across the room, came an indignant shout: “I DID NOT!”

An unfortunate joke perhaps, but now that I have your attention - listen to this: the Torah actually tells us that we should be like G-d. Maybe that’s where all these people get the idea? Maybe they’re the normal ones and we’re crazy?

It can’t be that the Torah is telling us to think that we’re G-d, right? Yes, that’s true. But it does tell us that we should walk in G-d’s ways and the commentaries explain this means that we should make ourselves as similar as possible to G-d. But what exactly does that mean?

No, you probably won’t find a sign on any sidewalk indicating “G-d’s Ways” but the Torah clearly points us in the right direction. There are very clear instructions regarding every aspect of life. Which leads us to a question: What is the Torah actually adding with this statement? I mean, we have 613 mitzvot, all clearly communicated in the Torah. We have numerous verses exhorting us to obey these laws and numerous verses emphasizing their eternal and binding nature. So what exactly is being added by this instruction to “Walk in G-d’s ways”?

Here’s an idea: Since we already know about G-d’s ways through all the verses communicating them and encouraging their observance, perhaps here the emphasis is on the walking? That we should WALK in G-d’s ways.

When it comes to mitzvah observance it’s easy to get stuck in one spot. Either we get stuck in our non-observance: “How could I ever keep shabbat or kosher etc? It can’t be for me” or we get stuck in our level of observance and remain stagnant, we don’t grow in our observance of - or our appreciation for - the Torah.

Therefore the Torah tells us: “Walk in G-d’s ways” - keep on moving in the right direction. And the walking metaphor is actually quite deep - on the one hand walking is incremental, implying that no matter where we’re at, we can and should take one step in the right direction. At the same time, when one takes even one step forward, they are now in an entirely new place than they were before. Each step brings us to a whole new place with no connection to the place we were previously standing, implying the ability to grow exponentially.

Rosh Hashanah is in just over a week - take some time to consider this in a serious way. We’re always looking to perfect our game when it comes to physical matters, now is the time to amp up our spiritual experience.

And if you need a coach - talk to me, I’d be happy to help!


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