The question is sometimes asked why we say vehu rachum straight after neila at the end of Yom Kippur? One answer is that we might have said Boruch Hashem it’s all over. Our first mistake after Shevuos could also be to say “it’s all over.” Not just Shevuos but the whole serious of Festivals, starting from Purim. In fact all these Festivals have been extremely useful in building up our thanks to Hashem for all the miracles both then and now bringing us last week to a sincere Kabolas Hatorah The question is what now? What are we supposed to be focusing on after Shevuos?
In the Parsha of Behaaloscho we read the two pesukim beginning ‘vayehi binsoa ho’oron… They are surrounded by inverted nuns. Why? The Gemoro Shabbos 116a explains that they are to separate one punishable offence from another. The sin immediately following these two pesukim is self understood. The People were complaining against Hashem. What was the sin mentioned just prior to this section? The People journeyed from the mountain of Hashem. Tosfos explains that they left too quickly. “Like a child runs away from school.” But we could still ask what they did wrong. Surely they were not rushing away from Har Sinai. They were rushing to do the Mitzva of Yishuv Eretz Yisroel. The answer is that nevertheless they should not have been rushing away. There was so much to think about, having just received the Torah. Don’t rush away, even to do another Mitzva. Why are there no Festivals in the month of Cheshvan? The answer could be the same. The previous month of Tishrei was full of Festivals each with its important lessons. There is so much to think about. Let’s have some time before we move on to the next thing.
So we have just got the Torah – let’s think about it. Toras Hashem temima meshivas nefesh…. The Torah is perfect..it makes the fool wise….the Mitzvos of the Torah give so much Simcha… they give light to our eyes…they are more precious than gold…sweeter than honey. The Chofetz Chaim that explained the Torah is better than gold and silver because as it is says in Mishlei “one who loves money is never satisfied with his money” and we can’t always get more, sometimes we even lose what we have. It is better than honey because although honey is sweet, how much can you eat? After a certain amount of honey we feel sick. But Torah we love, we want more and we can obtain it. It is up to us, there is no shortage, there is enough to go round. And the more we have, the better we feel, the more spiritually enriched we become. So this is what we should be thinking of now – the wonderful Torah which we have received just now from Hashem.
Now I would like to look ahead somewhat – the rest of the Summer. What should we be trying to gain from Summer and how can we best utilize the time before the Yomim Noraim and Succos season is upon us.
When Summer is mentioned what do we think of? Long lazy days? Summer holidays? Sunshine? It usually has a positive connotation. English people particularly look forward to sunshine. We’ve all heard the phrase. “ Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun” However in Tenach, Summer has a negative connotation. It is associated with intense heat, thirst. “ The sun will not strike you by day, nor the moon by night” In the Chumash, Hashem promised Noach after the flood that thereafter the seasons will never cease, Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter. Obviously every season is necessary. So what is the particular purpose of Summer? Maybe Shlomo Hamelech has an idea. Mishlei (6/6-9) says “ Go to the ant, you lazy one. See her ways and become wise…. She prepares her food in the Summer and stores up her food in the harvest time. So…surprise, surprise. Hashem did not create Summers to be lazed away! It’s a time to be used well, to prepare for the future. Let’s hear the words of Reb Shimson Refoel Hirsh zts”l in Judaism Eternal as translated by the late Dayan Dr I. Grunfeld zts”l in his chapter on Ellul.
The Summer is drawing to a close. The earth receives the final glow of the sun and its fruits approach their full maturity. Everything that grows and lives seeks to extract the maximum of ripeness from the last rays of the year. The apple paints itself with its final shade of red, the wine receives its richest sparkle. The ground gives its last sap, the corn-stalks grow to their limit. The bee seeks its last drop of honey in the flower cup before it vanishes. The squirrel drags its last grain of corn to its winter store. The returning swallow carries the last straw to the nest. There is no time to be lost; the end is in sight. The Master will soon call. Everything seeks while there is still time to attain and to achieve the best that is in it. It does not wish to appear before its Master with fragmentary and half finished work, with its year’s performance still defective. The worm the grasshopper, the beast, the bird, the stalk, the herb, the seed, the fruit, everything seeks to fulfil the will of the Master, to perform the task he has laid upon it. Shall then negligence, remissness and perversity dwell in the haunts of man? Shall he harbour in his heart the spirit of thoughtlessness which lives in a dream world for the day only, without ever thinking that the end is close and that the Master is calling, without looking into and round himself, without looking before and after so as to sieze the speeding hour by its pinions and using the vanishing moment to prepare himself for eternity?
So how can we best use our Summer? We already spoke about maintaining the level we have reached after Purim, Pesach and Shevuos. Appreciating the Torah which we have been given. But what else? There’s so much we can appreciate in the Summer. Messeches Baiya (5b) brings a halocho that no one was allowed to redeem their maaser sheini fruit within a certain distance of Yerusholayim.The Gemoro explains that this was “ to adorn the streets of Yerushalayim with fruit”.
In the Summer our shops are adorned with beautiful fruit. Peaches, plums, avocados and grapes. Nectarines, pomegranates and dates. Apples- Golden Delicious, Granny Smiths and Mackintoshes. Why are there so many varieties with such delicious tastes? The answer is written in the Brocho we say in Nissan when we see the blossom on fruit trees “ Boruch…. Lehanos bohem bnei odom…. to give us pleasure.
Talking of peaches, perhaps I can share with you some of the amazing chochmo which is evident from the peach as is written in Rabbi Avrohom Katz’s book, Designer World. The first chapter is about peaches.
The annual conference of peach trees had one made item on the agenda – how to preserve the species. If their seeds would fall near the tree they wouldn’t survive because of the great competition for water. One highly respected old peach tree proposed a daring plan. They would utilise the human species. They would first protect their beloved offspring by placing them in an impenetrable casing. They would then tempt these unsuspecting humans by surrounding this casing with a delicious, soft and aromatic fruit.The humans would walk away with the fruit, enjoy it and eventually throw the casing with its invaluable merchandise on to the ground. Some of the younger peach trees laughed. “What does it help? Our fragile little seeds will be stuck inside the casing like in a prison until they die!” “Not to worry,” said the older peach tree. “True the protective casing will be designed with a seam running along its length which will be bounded with a powerful adhesive. Not even a metal hammer will be able to crack it. However when the case falls into soil special enzymes will amazingly emerge which will dissolve the glue and allow our beloved seed to escape to freedom and life.” The truth is, of course, that no wise old peach tree could have arranged all this. Not in a day, a year, a million years. Only the Designer in Chief has arranged it all for our pleasure as He has arranged everything else. In the Summer we should think more deeply about the words of the brocho, Boruch..borei peri ho’eitz. Let’s not miss the opportunity.
We mentioned the sun. It may be ninety three million miles away and it gives us life but we need Hashem to protect us from its rays. Hashem does this with the very handy ozone layer. So we get the benefit without paying the cost.
During the summer particularly when we go out in the sunshine, even if it’s not at noon, it might be hot but we survive Boruch Hashem. We should say the words of Tehilim 121, at least in our minds “Hashem protects you… the sun will not strike you by day, nor the moon by night”
If we could now take a step further and use the Summer season to help us think about the seasons of our lives. The period of our lives when we can achieve the most is often called our personal Summer season.Our Spring season is when we’re young, growing up, still immature. Autumn is when we’re declining. Winter is after 120 years. Our Summer is when we have grown up, we have the abilities to achieve. If we think back to the words of Mishlei – the ant uses Summer to prepare for Winter and Shlomo Hamelech said we have to learn from the ant.
If we don’t prepare our Neshomos in our Summer, what will we have in the Winter? As per the famous proverb – We have to make hay while the sun shines. Making hay might include learning Torah or helping others learn.
Careful observance of Mitzvos. Bain Odom LeMokom, Bain Odom Lechaveiro, Midos Tovos. It includes successfully facing the particular challenges which Hashem sends our way, financial, family, health issues.
Keeping our emuna in all circumstances, getting the halochos of Brochos clear and saying our Brochos with kavono. Using any special talents with which we have been blessed.
Sometimes being industrious in the Summer is hard work. It involves particular challenges, even an odd tear. As we say in Shir Hamaalos “ hazorim bedima, berina yiktzoru –they sow with tears, they reap in joy. To sow seeds is sometimes difficult. But those who sow with tears will reap in joy – those who don’t sow will have nothing to reap. Those who work hard on Erev Shabbos will enjoy a wonderful Shabbos. Those who don’t prepare on Erev Shabbos will have nothing to eat on Shabbos. This is the summer. Whilst others spend the time in spiritual hibernation, we can achieve, we can grow, we can invest in our neshomos.
Hashem promised Noach that there will always be summers because we need them. Not for sleeping through but to be used. To appreciate Hashem’s gifts, to be grateful for His protection, to value his Torah and to be better prepared for the next season – Rosh Hashono, Yom Kippur and Succos, Zman Simchosainu…haboim olainu letova, omain.