Articles

Eisav’s Tears

“Eisav is still crying.” Since the time that Yaakov received the brochos from Yitzchak, Chazal say that Eisav has never stopped crying. This is surprising for two reasons. Firstly, if we look at the pesukim, it would appear that Eisav received virtually the same brocho as Yaakov. Secondly, if there was a slight difference, why can’t he get over it? It’s been a long time. Eisav has enjoyed mighty empires over the years which we never had. Why does Eisav still cry?

Firstly let’s look at the posukim. Yitzchak blessed Yaakov as follows: “May Hashem give you of the dew of the Heavens and of the fatness of the Earth, abundant grain and wine. Peoples will serve you and regimes will prostrate themselves before you. You should be a lord to your brothers and the sons of your mother will bow down to you; cursed be they who curse you and blessed be they who bless you.”(Bereishis 27:28-29). Yitzchak blessed Eisav as follows.” Behold of the fatness of the Earth shall be your dwelling and of the dew of the Heaven from above. By your sword you shall live but your brother you shall serve; yet it shall be that when you are aggrieved because Yaakov is not worthy, you may cast off his yoke from upon your neck. (ibid 39-40) They both received dew. The fatness of the Earth which Eisav was blessed with presumably includes the same abundant grain and wine that Yaakov was blessed with. Yes, Yaakov was blessed that he should rule over his brother but Eisav was told that if he is aggrieved he will be able to cast off the yoke of Yaakov. So why the tears?

Gemoro Succah (28b) compares rain on Succos to a servant who brings a cup of wine to his master and the master pours a jug of water over him. The Vilna Gaon (Kol Eliyahu Emor) asks why the Gemoro doesn’t say simply that the master throws the cup of wine over the servant? Why bring the jug of water into the moshol? He gives an illuminating answer. Hashem has arranged Succos after Rosh Hashono and Yom Kippur because He loves us. As we know, Rosh Hashono and Yom Kippur are days when we are being judged. It could be that we have davened sincerely, tried to do teshuva sheleima, committed ourselves to do better next year but alas at the final count, after Neila, our merits are not quite enough. Our aveiros still outweigh our mitzvos and Hashem has no choice but to respond with harsh judgement. But He loves us and wants to give us a last chance. Therefore Hashem gave us the mitzvos of Succah, arba minim, simchas Yom Tov (which women are also obliged to fulfil) as a way of diluting the judgment which He would have had to bring on us. There are so many mitzvos which we can do over Succos that we have an excellent chance to add enough merits to tip the scales of justice in our favour. Hashem’s desire to ‘dilute’ our judgment is symbolized by the water in the Gemoro’s moshol. If Hashem makes it rain (this is clearly talking about Eretz Yisroel where it rarely rains, not a country where rain is frequent anyway) and thus denies us the opportunity to fulfill the mitzvah of Succah, it is like the water, which was ready to dilute the strong wine into a pleasant drink, being thrown over the servant. The undiluted wine, which symbolises strict judgement, will now remain unpalatable.  The main inspiration of this explanation, however, is how much Hashem loves us and wants us to deserve to be blessed with a successful year. He decrees a Yom Tov with its many mitzvos just at the moment that the merits acquired can tip the scale of judgment in our favour.

In Tehilim (149) we are told to “sing a new song…rejoice…praise His Name with dancing…make music with drums and a harp… because Hashem loves His People.” This could be a hint to Succos, according to the Vilna Gaon’s explanation. On Succos we can particularly appreciate how much Hashem loves us, wants us to be successful in judgement and wants to bless us. Of course we love Hashem in return and want to play our drums, harp, and other musical instruments to dance and sing in His honour which may hint to the simchas beis hashoeva of Succos.

True, Eisav’s dew, grains and wine etc were equal to Yaakov’s. That is not what Eisav cries about. He cries that Yaakov receives his blessings from Hashem: “Veyiten lecho Elokim”, whereas in his brocho the name of Hashem is not mentioned, as the Sfas Emes points out. Eisav’s brochos will come but without Hashem’s love. He might rule empires but will have no connection to Hashem. His life will lack the sweetness which a connection with Hashem produces. No beauty of Shabbos. No joy of Yom Tov. No inspiration from the Torah. A spiritual vacuum.

Yaakov was told that Hashem will bless him. His descendants will always feel His closeness. And this is the greatest brocho, which gives the greatest simcha. No wonder Eisav still cries.

Why did we lose the Land?

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One hundred years after Lord Balfour began the political process to enable millions of Jews to live in Eretz Yisroel as they do now, let’s look again at the religious reasons we lost the land two and a half thousand years ago. An honest discussion of the relevant pasukim and statements in Chazal will reveal what we need to do to transform the present political de facto situation into the true geula sheleima. We might also have a still better understanding of why we ask for the rebuilding of the Beis Hamikdash at the end of our Shemone Esrei.

The pesukim on this subject in Sefer Yirmiyahu are very difficult to understand. Yirmiyahu says, “Is there a chochom who can understand this, someone to whom Hashem has spoken that he should explain this, why did we lose the Land and it has become parched like a desert without a passer-by?” Hashem said, “Because they forsook My Torah… they didn’t listen to My voice…they served idols.” (9:11-13)

The first difficulty is the plurality of expressions describing their disloyalty to the Torah, all of which seem to refer to idol-worship. But far more difficult, is that the first pasuk indicates that no-one could explain why the Land was lost, not even chachomim and nevi’im, while in the second and third pasukim Hashem said that the people were serving idols. If they were serving idols, the reason for the exile was clear, as we read in krias shema, “If you serve other gods…you will be exiled from the Land.”

Nedarim (81a) is often brought as a source to explain these pesukim. It asks, “Why are the children of talmidei Chachomim often not talmidei chachomim?” One answer of the Gemoro is that they don’t say Birkas HaTorah before they learn Torah, as Rav Yehuda said in the name of Rav. What does the pasuk mean when it says, “Is there a Chochom who can explain this….why was the Land lost? Hashem said, Because they forsook My Torah, they didn’t listen to My voice…” Said Rav Yehuda in the name of Rav, this means that they didn’t say Birkas HaTorah before they learnt Torah.”

The Ran explains that the Gemoro had the same difficulty as we had. If the people had really forsaken the Torah, why couldn’t the chachomim answer the question of why we were exiled from the Land?  The Gemoro answered  that their aveira was that they didn’t say Birkas HaTorah. However this is still difficult. Firstly, why didn’t the  Chachomim realise their aveira that they were omitting birkas HaTorah? Secondly, and more problematically, our Gemoro seems to imply that the only aveira was that the people did not say Birkas Hatorah. But this is contradicted by the simple meaning of many pasukim and also by another Gemoro (Yuma 9b) which says that the first Beis Hamikdash was destroyed because of idol worship, murder and immorality. Later (ibid 69b) the Gemoro says that Chazal later davened that Hashem should take away the yetzer hora for idol worship which had been the cause of the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash.

The Ran brings the Megilas Sesorim who says that they did say Birkas HaTorah but they did not have the correct kavono when they said it.  This answers the first question. No human being could discern that until Hashem revealed their failing. However the second difficulty of the other sources which say clearly that the people were guilty of horrendous sins therefore everyone should have realized why we lost the Land, remains unanswered.  Perhaps this is the explanation. The people were clearly guilty of idol worship, murder and immorality, but Yirmiyahu wanted to know the source of this spiritual decline. What led us to fall so low?  And only Hashem knew, “They had forsaken My Torah.” Yes, they learnt the Torah and kept it but it wasn’t ‘My Torah’. They no longer felt the connection between themelves and the Shechina. And the first manifestation of this yerida was in the way they said Birkas Hatorah. They said the words, but they were not completely focused on the One to whom they were speaking. They lacked kavono. This led to a lack of kavono in other brochos and other mitzvos. “They didn’t listen to My voice,” as the navi said. This led to a gradual abandonment of other mitzvos and eventually to the cardinal aveiros including idol worship.

We see the same concept in reverse in Krias Shema. The wearing of tzitzis should first of all ensure that “We see them and remember all the mitzvos and do them.” Then, in an apparent repetition, we are told, “in order that you remember and keep all My mitzvos and be holy to Hashem Elokeichem.” This is not a repetition. We have, in fact, gone from keeping the mitzvos to keeping “My mitzvos” and through this we have become holy.

If we want to merit the rebuilding of the Beis Hamikdash and the Geula Sheleima, it is not enough to go through the motions of the mitzvos, even if we do them in every detail and following the strictest opinions. We have to reclaim our personal connection with Hashem. When we say a brocho, we have to know and feel that we are talking to Hashem. We will say the words clearly and accurately even if it takes a few more seconds. When we put on our tallis or tefillin or do any other mitzvah we will remember that this is not just “what Jews do”, but it is part of our Avodas Hashem.  When we learn Torah we will have in mind that we are bringing the Shechina down to this world which will protect us, particularly in Eretz Yisroel. (Bach)

By the time we reach the last section of the Shemone Esrei we have built up a close personal relationship to Hashem. We say “Elokai, netzor leshoni (not Elokim). We have, hopefully, regained at least to a small degree the madreiga we had before our spiritual decline which led to the Churban. There is no better moment to plead with Hashem that He should consider us worthy of the Geula….sheyibone Beis Hamikdash bimheira beyomeinu …kimei olom ukeshonim kadmonios.

Rest under the Tree

Every aspect of Avrohom Ovinu’s hospitality was repaid to his children. Avrohom ran to prepare meat for his guests; Hashem later gave us the slav. He gave them butter and milk; we received the mon. He gave them water; we received water from the rock. (Bobo Metziah 86b). He told them to rest under the tree, we later received the mitzvah of succah. (Bereishis Rabboh). We can easily understand the first few examples, but what has resting under a tree to do the mitzvah of succah? The fact that a succah under a tree is not kosher only adds to the difficulty. And Chazal say in Yalkut Emor that a person who performs the mitzvah of succah will be protected from mazikim. Why?

Last week we showed how the high point of our Shemoneh Esrei is the last line Oseh sholom bimromov..When we bow down three times during that line with the emuna that Ein od milvado – there is no power besides Hashem – we express our humility and emuna that nothing besides Hashem has any power, then indeed everything else loses its power. This provides tremendous protection from those who seek to harm us. And humility, in different forms is the central theme of Elokai netzor. Netzor leshoni mero … speaking badly of others is a sign of arrogance. Nafshi ke’ofor lakol tiheye… we highlight the qualities of others whilst being mindful of our shortcomings. P’sach libi besorosecho; humility is the key to learning Torah and our acceptance of the mitzvos. Admitting our inability to shape our destiny or control our lives, rejecting kochi ve’otzem yodi – that “the strength of my hand has achieved for me this wealth,” our belief in ein od milvado – that there is no power besides Hashem, leads us to hope that indeed chol hachoshvim olai ro meheira hofeir atzosom vekalkel machshevosom. Hashem will destroy the plans of our enemies. Asei leman shemecho … even if our emuna is not perfect, He should still destroy our enemies to protect His Name, to protect the reputation of his “right hand,” to uphold sanctity and for the sake of His Torah. Lemaan yecholtzun yedidecho…You have said that You love us; please save us for this reason. Yiheyu lerotzon imrei fi – please, Hashem accept our tefilos and hegyon libi – this could refer to those heartfelt desires which we didn’t succeed in verbalising but could also refer to the emuna in our hearts.

Now we take the obligatory three steps back. Without them, according to Yuma 53b, “there is no point in one’s whole tefila.” Why are they crucial? Because these steps backward reflect our subservience to Hashem. We are not just finishing a chat with our friend. The Creator of the World deigned to allow us to speak to Him. “Oseh Sholom..” with its three bows indicates again our complete subservience to Hashem, as we said earlier.

Now comes the final part of our tefila – a plea for the restoration of the Beis Hamikdash. If, at Oseh sholom we were already mentally on our way out of shul, by sheyibone Beis Hamikdash we will certainly be already down the road, checking the time or nodding to a neighbor. What a wasted opportunity! Why do we ask Hashem to restore the Beis Hamikdash at this point? Perhaps it because whenever the Nevi’im speak about the Beis Hamikdash they speak about Hashem’s greatness. “The Heavens are My Throne and the Earth my footstool” (Yeshaya 66:1). “The Heavens in all their vastness cannot contain Hashem.” (Melochim 1. 8:27). If we can’t appreciate the greatness of Hashem, His limitless power, His awesome wisdom, we will not be able to serve Him with yiras Shoma’im in the Beis Hamikdash. If we do not live with the emuna sheleima that He is a living G-d Who, even though He is magbihi losheves, is also mashpili liros bashomayim uvo’oretz and has a relationship with every single person, our avodas Hashem will be perfunctory, superficial and something we do merely out of habit. And we would not deserve a Beis Hamikdash. We would still be behaving in the way Yeshaya (29:13) criticized when he prophesied the imminent destruction of the Beis Hamikdash –“They honour Me with their mouth and lips but their heart is far from Me.”.

However if we have been concentrating on davening as we should, we can show at this point that we are capable of truly serving Hashem and are worthy again of a Beis Hamikdash. We now say that we are ready to serve Hashem “beyir’a” – with the appropriate humility, awe and emuna. If so, this is an opportune moment to plead to Hashem to restore the Beis Hamikdash. It is certainly not a moment to squander.

Avrohom Ovinu was not merely telling his guests to rest in the shade but hisho’anu tachas ho’eitz, they should note the amazing miracle of a tree which only recently might have a been a mere seed but now, thanks to chasdei Hashem produces fruit in abundance and shade for our convenience during the heat of summer. This understanding of Hashem’s greatness and showing our subservience to Him is the main purpose of the mitzvah of Succah. Thus Avrohom Ovinu’s invitation to his guests to “Rest under the tree” made us worthy of the mitzvah of Succah which echoes the same theme. And if we enter our Succah with the correct kavono that ein od milvado – nothing has any power besides Hashem, all the mazikim who try to harm us will automatically lose their power and we will continue to survive in the shade of Hashem’s protection.

To be continued.

Where was G-d in the Holocaust?

Any rabbi or Jewish speaker who has ever spoken in public on the topic of emuna has probably been challenged with the question, Where was G-d in the Holocaust? Even today seventy years after the end of the Second World War, the issue occupies people’s minds. Some may use it to justify their secular lifestyle. For them the question is really an answer rather than a question. Others are truly perplexed. As Avrohom Ovinu said (Bereishis  18:25) “ Shall the Judge of the Earth not do justice?”

Why am I writing this essay? Do I think that I am the best-qualified person to answer the question? How can I even relate to the horrors of the Holocaust, with no first-hand experience? Many books have been written by survivors, describing their horrific experiences. The authors of the ones I have read maintained their emuna despite everything. However they usually do not discuss how they maintained their emuna. Other survivors have written that they saw   Hashem in the Holocaust. Again, this is usually part of an account of their personal survival. They somehow escaped the brink of death multiple times. They see their survival as an outright miracle. This is a truly Jewish response displaying a level of emuna which we cannot aspire to. We do not reach the ankles of these heroes. But they do not attempt to explain why Hashem allowed so many others to die.

Books have been written on this subject which unfortunately do not represent Torah Judaism. The very few books written by Talmidei Chachamim are either too lengthy for today’s ‘instant’ generation or are written in loshon hakodesh or they are out of print.[1] Having been asked recently by a well-meaning Jewish lady how can I explain where Hashem was when six million Jews were brutally murdered, I felt it was appropriate to give her an answer which, despite the tragedy of the Holocaust, will be positive and non-critical and will leave this lady strong and positive in her emuna. I am putting my answer on paper so that it may be a help for Rabbonim and kiruv workers who need to respond to this question, for others troubled by this question who are reluctant to ask anybody because they might be suspected of having doubts in emuna, and for today’s youth who need succinct answers to their questions in emuna as part of their education. There is a risk that, whatever I write, I might be quoted out of context by somebody who disagrees. But should one not write or say anything because people might quote you out of context? The well-known pasuk says, “The righteous shall walk in them and the wicked shall stumble in them.” (Hoshea 14:10) I have tried to decrease the risk by suggesting various Torah responses to the question. Someone who finds one explanation difficult to accept, might be better able to accept others.

The wording of the question — “Where was G-d in the Holocaust?” assumes a belief in G-d. This may lead us to wonder what we mean by G-d. Do we mean the Jewish definition of Hashem, the all-powerful Creator, responsible for the myriads of stars and every blade of grass on Earth, who provides food for every creature from the greatest to the smallest, who gives us the strength for every step we take and every breath we breathe? Or do we mean a childish view of a god who has supernatural powers and is supposed to do for us anything we want at any time we demand it. The latter belief is certainly going to be suspect if our very own god didn’t do what he is supposed to do, helping us out when we needed it. The Jewish belief also leads us to ask why He didn’t help when we needed it because He certainly can do anything. However, expecting an explanation which we can understand, presupposes that we are capable of understanding His conduct. This is clearly a weak assumption; such a Creator is so much greater than us in every possible way that there is no reason to assume that we will understand Him, His actions or His decisions. In fact if a person thinks that he has the mental capacity to understand whatever Hashem does, he is contradicting himself. If we are equal to Hashem, why worship Him?

We can begin to understand the rationale of a decision only if we have all the facts in front of us on which it is based. Would any intelligent person criticize the decisions of the managing director of a company who has decreased his work-force without full knowledge of the workings of the company? Maybe he is doing it because of a poor annual report just in, or in the offing. Maybe he is planning to employ new workers with new skills to meet the anticipated technological demands of the next season? Or maybe he is planning to open a new factory in another country where the wages are less and the company profits will increase. Although the question of where Hashem was in the Holocaust might pass through our minds, we cannot assume that we will understand His reasons. What do we know about Hashem’s plans? What do we know about the present state of the universe and our rôle in it? Have we any concept of the purpose and destiny of each individual’s neshama?

“Shall the Judge of the Earth not do Justice?”

We started by strengthening the question of where was Hashem in the Holocaust by quoting the pasuk “Shall the Judge of the Earth not do justice?”  However, this pasuk is not necessarily relevant. In the context of Sedom and Amora, Hashem was about to destroy the cities with “fire and brimstone from Heaven” (Bereishis 19:24) This was something clearly supernatural, initiated and carried out directly by Hashem. Avrohom Ovinu was asking about the Hashem’s justice if righteous people were to be killed as well. If fire and brimstone had come down from Heaven killing six million Jews we would certainly ask why Hashem did it. But the Holocaust was carried out by human beings. Hitler had written of his plan to destroy the Jews and when he achieved political power he began to carry it out. Our question has to change to “why didn’t Hashem intervene to prevent the Holocaust happening?” This is a different and much weaker question.

It must be emphasized that, however we try to answer this question, an essential part of our emuna is that every person is judged individually by Hashem. Every mitzvah and every aveira that a person does is noted. Every pleasurable moment and every moment of distress that a person experiences on this Earth is similarly noted by Hashem. There are sinful people who are rewarded for their few mitzvos while they live in this world and do not receive any reward in the World to Come. There are righteous people who want to receive all their reward in the World to Come. Others who have suffered in this world through no fault of their own will receive a lofty place in the World to Come with all the pleasure that brings with it. And the very sinful will receive a great eternal punishment. On an individual level every Jew who suffered in the Holocaust will have their account corrected and their pleasure in the World to Come will be greater than we could ever imagine, each one according to their individual life and destiny. What we are discussing here is the Holocaust on a national level. Is there any way we can understand it?

To begin answering, we have to clarify several essential points of Torah hashkafa. The first of the thirteen statements of Torah hashkafa as written by the Rambam says: “I believe with perfect faith that the Creator, blessed be He, creates and guides all creatures and He alone made, makes and will make everything.” Nothing can possibly exist outside the will of Hashem. Every act we do, every word we say, every thought we think and every second we live is only because Hashem wills it to happen. Therefore we have to thank Him for giving us life and everything else. However, because these miracles happen on a constant basis, we do not readily recognize them as miracles and they are called nissim nistorim – hidden miracles. Nissim gluyim – open miracles – are those interventions by Hashem which go against the normal functioning of the world. These happen extremely rarely. The plagues in Mitzrayim which punished the Mitzriim but did not affect the Jews were examples of nissim gluyim. The Ramban in his commentary in Parshas Bo (13:16) says that the open miracles which took place at the time of Yetzias Mitzrayim proved that Hashem exists, that He involves Himself in matters of this world and that He gives reward and punishment to individuals. But “He will not do open miracles in every generation for anyone who demands a proof of Hashem’s power. We are supposed to have learnt about the power of Hashem from the events of Yetzias Mitzrayim. For this reason we have many mitzvos zecher l’yetzias Mitzraim to remind ourselves of those open miracles.” We see from this Ramban that, although Hashem can do anything, He restrains Himself. He does not perform open miracles on a regular basis. He does not normally intervene in a miraculous way in the ‘natural’ world. The Gemara (Shabbos 53b) tells of a righteous man who prayed that he should have the ability to nurse a baby and was granted that ability, but he was criticized for “changing the ways of nature.”  In fact for Hashem to do so would be self-defeating. Even an open miracle performed often would be taken for granted by many, just like all His constant hidden miracles. One of the reasons for this is that he wants us to have free choice to believe in Him and His powers and so to earn the reward for doing so. If we saw Hashem clearly intervening either to punish the wicked or even stop a sinful act, we would have no free choice. In our times, we often plead for Hashem’s intervention but it is not forthcoming, at least not in an obvious way. After Moshiach comes, writes the Ramban in Devarim  (30:6), we will see open miracles again, but then we will gain no merits for believing in Hashem. In the meantime, therefore, Hashem’s apparent non-intervention should not lead us to wonder where He is. It is in keeping with Hashem’s plan as explained by the Ramban and many other commentators. In fact the Torah says explicitly “I will hide Myself on that day.” (Devarim  31:18). At the same time Hashem promised “I will never allow the Jewish People to be destroyed,”(Vayikra 26:44) which has miraculously been fullfilled despite all our persecutors until today. Our belief in the Torah should therefore not be weakened but strengthened.

If Hashem does not intervene, at least not overtly, in what happens in this world, some people argue that the central question is not “Where was G-d in the Holocaust?” but “Where was man in the Holocaust?” Even if we accept that there are wicked people who are prepared to murder others to achieve their goals, the genocide of six million Jews was only possible with the co-operation and participation of huge numbers of others who had no compunction about murdering innocent citizens. The cruelty of Nazis soldiers and their collaborators is well-documented. The indifference of millions of bystanders to the fate of the Jews is equally testified to by survivors. Western leaders and media deliberately downgraded reports of mass slaughter of the Jews and failed to come to their rescue even when they could. The valiant efforts of heroes like Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat and Chiune Sugihara, the Japanese diplomat who saved many thousands of Jews only highlights what could have been done if more people had been determined to help Jews. So where was man? Where was human decency? Where was there an appropriate response by twentieth century civilization to the mass genocide which we call the Holocaust? The lack of response to the question, ‘Where was man?’ should prompt more introspection among students of history than the theological question of where G-d was. He gave man freedom of choice (Devarim 30:19) and if man failed, is He to blame?[2]

One of the most sensitive areas of discussion on this subject is whether the Holocaust can in any way be understood as a fulfillment of the curses of the Torah as described in the Chumash, (Devarim 28: 15-68). These horrific events were understood by the Gemoro in Gittin (55-57)and commentators such as the Ramban (Vayikra 26:16) to have been fulfilled earlier in our history, during the destruction of the second Beis Hamikdash and the subsequent Roman exile. If the curses of the Torah had already been realized, then the Holocaust could not have been their fulfillment. It is clear from the curses written in the Torah, however, that if we don’t listen to G-d’s commandments we are liable to be punished. Howls of protest beset anyone who dares to suggest that the Holocaust was a punishment for the sins of the victims, not least because some of the greatest Jewish leaders and masses of loyal Jews and more than a million children were victims alongside Jewish atheists and non-observant Jews. Therefore it is not useful nowadays to pursue this avenue of explanation, certainly in a secular forum. Chazal say that “Just as it is a mitzvah to say something which will be listened to, it is also a mitzvah not to say something which will not be listened to.”[3] However it is perhaps a less sensitive point to say that we didn’t deserve that Hashem should perform miracles on our behalf. There are posukim in Tanach tell us that sometimes Hashem will not answer our tefilos because we are not worthy enough.[4]  According to the Seforno’s commentary on Shemos 15:16, Moshe Rabeinu davened in the Shiras Hayam that the Alufei Edom and Eilei Moav should be like stone until the Bnei Yisroel had crossed the river Yarden  because “before they have the crossed the river Yarden any war would be very difficult and would require a big miracle which perhaps they won’t merit.”

Another possible explanation given, is that the Holocaust was a necessary atonement for sins committed over a period of time. The concept of atonement or kapara is not readily understood. Why is kapara necessary? Why isn’t forgiveness (selicha and mechila) enough? It is interesting to note that on Yom Kippur we say “Selach lonu, mechal lonu, kaper lonu” but in our weekday Shemone Esrei we say only “Selach lonu” and “mechal lonu “ We do not request a kapara. Why not? What is this extra concept of kapara?

The Abarbanel says on the wording of our Yom Kippur tefila that our requests from Hashem go in ascending order. First we ask Hashem to forgive us for sinning. We made an error of judgement or we gave into our yetzer hora and we are truly sorry. Please forgive us. In His great kindness Hashem can do this, but there is the question of the honor of His Royal Throne. Hashem, personally, (as it were), can forgive us but sometimes the Honor of the Royal Throne doesn’t allow the sin to go unpunished. For this we need mechila, which is the equivalent of a royal pardon. This is why in the Shemone Esrei we ask Avinu (our Father) for selicha but Malkeinu (our King) for mechila. But our sin has not yet been obliterated from the record books. For this, says the Abarbanel, we need a kapara. However, we still haven’t explained why we need a kapara. If we have been totally forgiven and pardoned, what is missing?

On Yom Kippur and also in the paragraph printed in some siddurim before kerias Shema al hamitta, we ask that our sins should be nimchaku, erased – but not by serious suffering. Why don’t we ask that our sins should erased without any suffering? It seems that this is not an option. There has to be a response by Hashem at some level to our sins.  Why?

The answer is that a lack of response to sin gives the impression that leis din veleis Dayan, there is no judgment and no Judge (ח”ו). We need to know and the world needs to know that that there is a Judge. He may be very forgiving but He exists. He has given us mitzvos to live by. If there is no response to sin, the world will deteriorate into to lawlessness and will eventually destroy itself. We will all be the losers. In the same way that parents love their children and want to forgive them, but they know that if there is no response to their bad behaviour the children will grow up wild and undisciplined and unable to enjoy a successful adulthood, there has to be a response to our sins which enables our sins to be totally erased. This is what kapara is.

Kapara may or may not be in the form of yisurim (physical punishment). Chazal say that Yom Kippur atones for some more minor sins. They say also that the mizbe’ach atoned for sins, as did the clothes of the Kohen Godol. If there is a recognized method of kapara to erase our sins, people will accept that they have sinned but it has been atoned for by one of the ways kapara. But if there is no recognized method of kapara and the sin seems to have been ignored, people will think that there is no Law and no Judge. It is a hefker velt  – anything goes. Unfortunately we do not have a mizbe’ach or bigdei kehuna.[5] Yom Kippur atones only for minor sins. For more major sins there is no option but yesurim. Only with yesurim will there be a kapara. If there are no yesurim and no response to our sins, the world will just degenerate into lawlessness. We will lose any incentive to improve.

This is why we ask Hashem, in our daily tefila, to forgive us. Selach lonu..mechal lonu. He can do that whilst we are standing in front of Him. But when it is not Yom Kippur, kapara will involve yesurim. This we do not ask for.

There is no doubt that the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries saw large numbers of Jews abandoning Judaism. About two hundred and fifty thousand Jews converted to Christianity in Central Europe.[6] Many more Jews became weak in their loyalty to the Torah. The Russian and Polish governments interfered with traditional Jewish education. The First World War caused enormous damage to the Jewish communal structure. Our youth were abandoning Torah observance. And the more Jews who abandoned Torah observance, the more difficult it became for the rest to remain loyal. Great Gedolim like the Chofetz Chaim tried their hardest to stem the tide, with limited success. Members of their own families were also abandoning the Torah. It was a time of unprecedented crisis for the Jewish People. Hopes of a great return to Torah observance seemed completely out of the question. Something major had to happen.

Did all these Jews really deserve punishment? Probably not. The temptation to leave Judaism was massive. After two thousand years of exile, people were exhausted from pogroms, expulsions and anti-semitism. Mass circulation secular newspapers urged Jews to take the escape route offered to them by the non-Jewish world. “Join the rest of the world and your problems will be solved. Anti-semitism will become something of the past,” they shouted from every rooftop.[7] Let us imagine that Hashem in His mercy could forgive them. The temptation was just too great.  But there had to be a response. Otherwise people would conclude, as we mentioned above, that leis din veleis Dayan –There is no Law and no Judge. Even if there was selicha and mechila there had to be a kapara. Thus some explain that the Holocaust was an atonement for the abandonment of Judaism by so many Jews. It was not a punishment but a kapara which was necessary to show that the world is not hefker. This was the only way of rebuilding the Jewish People so that there could be a Jewish future.

Of course, even though, we are quoting the opinion that Hashem allowed Hitler to carry his intentions for the reasons we have given, he and all the other murderers will not be able to claim that they were carrying out Hashem’s will. This argument was tried by the Egyptians three thousand years ago, in vain. They didn’t enslave the Jews because Hashem had told them to do so but out of their own wickedness and they were duly punished. So the Nazis and all those who helped them were acting only because they in their wickedness decided to commit genocide. They will never be forgiven. As the pasuk says, (Yoel  4:21) “domom lo nikeisi” Those who shed Jewish blood will never be forgiven.[8]  They will suffer a terrible and eternal punishment.[9]

Did the Holocaust bring us closer to Moshiach?

When Yosef was sold to the merchants who then sold him as slave to Potifar the pasuk tells us that these merchants were selling sweet smelling spices. (Bereishis 37:25)  Rashi explains that the pasuk says this because these merchants usually sell tar which has a very unpleasant smell. Because Yosef was a tzaddik, Hashem arranged that the merchants would, on this occasion, be selling sweet smelling spices so that Yosef’s journey would be slightly pleasanter. Rav Mattisyahu Salomon shlita comments that in any situation that we may have to endure, we must look for the ‘sweet smelling spices,’ – the one aspect which makes the situation not quite as bad. There is always something which makes any situation slightly better than it might have been. Not only will we feel slightly better but we can regard it as a hidden message from Hashem that although for some reason we have to endure a very difficult trial, He has not abandoned us.  Therefore even in the horrific Holocaust we must look for something positive, some aspect which could have been worse, some good point which came out of it.

It is possible that the Holocaust was a necessary preparation for the days of Moshiach. If so, this might be the “sweet-smelling spices” which we are told to look for even in the midst of tragedy.  The Holocaust may have speeded up the messianic process for several reasons. The first reason stems from the extreme cruelty of the perpetrators.  The commentators say that the bitterness and severity of our exile in Mitzrayim was such that the day of redemption from Mitzrayim was brought forward.[10] Perhaps this is the case as we look forward to our final redemption. Perhaps the severity of the Holocaust has also brought that date forward.

Another reason was the fact that the Holocaust caused a re-awakening of the desire for the Moshiach. Millions of tefilos were said during the years of the Holocaust that Hashem should send the Moshiach. Jews re-affirmed their belief in the coming of Moshiach by singing Ani Maamin on many occasions as testified to by survivors.

We mentioned before that in the absence of the Beis Hamikdash, we can only merit kapara for major sins through yissurim. Our natural desire to avoid yissurim should have caused Jews at the time of the Holocaust and still today to hope and daven for the Moshiach and a new Beis Hamikdash with greater intensity.

Another reason why the Holocaust might have speeded up the messianic process is as follows.  Before the Second World War, Germany was the center of culture in Europe, if not the world. German musicians, poets and sportsmen were outstanding. Even their manners were exemplary. They never failed to say please and thank you. Why should the Holocaust originate in just such a culturally advanced country? Both the Tenach and our oral tradition look forward to a time when all Jews will return to the Torah. All the nations of the World will abandon belief in other gods, recognize the existence of Hashem and worship Him. For this to happen, everyone needs to see that those other gods are false. Ancient gods of the graven image variety were rejected because they obviously had no power, but modern gods come in less easly-recognised  forms of political systems, secular beliefs, sport, culture and even atheism. For everyone to return to belief in the Torah, all the false gods have to lose their credibility. If the very seat of civilization and culture was the source of the depraved behavior which led to the Holocaust, its worshippers have to reconsider very seriously. And the indifference of the rest of the world to the plight of the Jews, disgraceful as it was, can be a catalyst for Jews wherever they live to resist assimilation into their host nations, to do teshuva and to return to the Torah.

Many Gedolim held that the Holocaust was a fulfillment of the chevlei Moshiach, the birth pangs of the Moshiach which according to Chazal which will take place before Moshiach and the final redemption.[i][11] These “birth pangs” were feared even in the times of our Amora’im, leading Rebbe Yochanan to say that he did not want to be alive during this most horrific period in our history. (Sanhedrin 98a)  Doniel (12:1) says about this time that “There will be a time of trouble such as never occurred from the beginning of the nations until that time.” Birth pangs are, of course, not random but are a necessary preparation for a healthy birth. Why did Chazal see the need for suffering as preparation for Moshiach and why might the Holocaust have been the realization of that prophecy?

One approach may be this: We try to avoid painful experiences, but pain is part of life in this world and it sometimes strikes us. It can be physical or emotional or both. It can be severe or slight but it is unlikely that anyone can escape it for his whole life. Why did Hashem create pain? There are many answers but let us concentrate on one facet of pain – its spiritual ramifications. A person in pain is challenged. Do we lose our faith in Hashem? Do we blame Him? Or do we accept that it is somehow way for our greater good? Do we learn to daven with more kavono? Do we grow in the mitzvos of fearing Hashem or at an even higher level, loving Hashem?

When Moshiach comes, we will no longer have free will as we mentioned above. Perhaps Hashem, during the chevlei Moshiach wants to give us our last opportunities to gain merits. He puts us in situations in we may be tempted to weaken in our loyalty to Hashem but where the opportunity exists to rise in our loyalty to Hashem. In an easy test we can gain only a few merits. But in a very hard test we can gain enormous merits to prepare us in the best way for the days of Moshiach.

This spiritual challenge certainly existed for every Jew caught up in the Holocaust. How do you react to a well-armed enemy determined to kill you? Does one lose emuna or gain emuna? Does one think only of oneself or does one look for ways to try to help others? Does one try to keep mitzvos or abandon everything? Did those in England and America, who were not physically threatened, carry on with their lives with just an occasional sigh or did they do what they could to help, not least by intensive davening? Everyone alive at that time had their challenges and their opportunities, their chevlei Moshiach – some less, some more. Those who have read the better books on the Holocaust will know that there were many, many spiritual giants amongst both the victims and the survivors. Ordinary people who lived their post-war lives as loyal Jews despite their horrific experiences are heroes whose courage we cannot aspire to. The Satmer Rebbe zt”l famously advised a young man who asked him for a brocho that he should seek one from someone who rolled up his sleeve to put on tefilin, revealing a concentration camp number tattooed on his arm.

Mention of the many spiritual giants amongst the victims of the Holocaust leads to another possible dimension of chevlei Moshiach. In the well known  tefila, ‘Avinu Malkeinu’ there are twenty-six lines all except two of which are requests to Hashem to have mercy on us in many different ways. Towards the end are the following three lines: Avinu Makeinu, aseh lema’an harugim al shem kodshecho. Avinu Malkeinu aseh lema’an tevucheinu al yichudecho. Avinu Malkeinu aseh lema’an bo’ei vo’eish uvemayim al Kiddush shemecho. We daven to Hashem to answer our tefilos for the sake of those who were slain for His holy name, for those who were slaughtered for His unity and for those who went through fire and water sanctifying the name of Hashem. We have made so many requests of Hashem to save us from our enemies, to save us from serious illness, from pestilence, the sword, famine, captivity and destruction etc. Our problem is that, to quote the last line of Avinu Malkeinu, “ein bonu ma’asim” we haven’t done enough good deeds, we do not have enough merits. From the fact that we invoke those who died al Kiddush Hashem it would appear that their merits are a vital way of our tefilos being answered. This idea may be a further positive consequence of the Holocaust and could be another reason for chevlei Moshiach. Each individual who died has his own account as we mentioned before. But they were also part of the Jewish People and the merits they created with their spiritual bravery and through their sacrifice, are passed on to other members of our people. Rav Elchanan Wasserman zt”l, Hyd, in his last speech before being killed al Kiddush Hashem together with many others, is known to have said that the purity of the way that they will die al Kiddush Hashem will help that at least the Jews of America will survive. Every single pure thought by the victims and survivors creates a merit which others gain from. Their determination to maintain their loyalty to Hashem despite unspeakable horrors has created a spiritual reservoir to help us in our tefilos to be saved from our present-day enemies, from illness, pestilence etc.  Furthermore it can be suggested that their extreme sacrifice helped jump-start the messianic process. How can we earn redemption when we are falling deeper and deeper into galus and losing so many to assimilation and intermarriage as described earlier. But the huge merit of spiritual bravery in a world of physical cruelty could have been just the way to begin the process of Geula. In this sense the Holocaust could have been the chevlei Moshiach, a necessary part of the messianic process.

Yet another way that the Holocaust could have been part of the messianic process was its political consequences. Whether the European nations had any real conscience about what had happened is debatable, but they certainly had a major problem with the half a million Jewish survivors in displaced persons’ camps with nowhere to go to. Nobody wanted them and the logical place for them to go to was Palestine. Despite British reluctance, the United Nations voted in 1947 in favour of a Jewish State in part of Palestine. This monumental decision enabled large immigration of Jews into Eretz Yisroel and they, together with those who were already there, formed the basis of the new Jewish State. Whether one follows those Gedolim who said that it is forbidden to create a Jewish State, certainly a secular state, before the coming of Moshiach or whether one follows those Gedolim who didn’t approve lechatchila but seeing that it was being formed anyway, paskened that it is better to work from the inside rather than the outside, is not relevant because it was formed anyway by others. This had led to today’s situation that Eretz Yisroel is now the centre of Jewish life with huge communities of loyal Jews, yeshivos, kollelim, chadorim, Beis Yaakovs and shuls in their thousands beautifying the land. Although a secular Jewish state is certainly not an ideal and potentially a very negative force, with great siyatto d’shmaya the Torah community has grown exponentially; many of the so called secular community have become baalei teshuva and many idealistic Jews have moved there from other countries. The total number of Jews who live in Eretz Yisroel is now over seven million. It can be argued, therefore, that as a consequence of the Holocaust  and its political aftermath, Moshiach is closer.  The land has been cultivated, cities have been built, trees have been planted which will greet the Jews when they return, as the pasuk prophesied, “And you, mountains of Israel, spread out your branches, give out your fruit for my People Israel because they are coming shortly.” (Yechezkel 36:8)

Final Thoughts

However we must return to our original theme before concluding this discussion. There have always been questions asked concerning G-d’s justice. The most famous is the question of tzaddik v’ra lo and rosho v’tov lo – why do we sometimes see righteous people suffer and wicked people prosper? Moshe Rabbeinu had this question as did great people throughout the generations. There are answers but the question has never disappeared. Knowing that this world is only an ante-room to the main hall of life in the World to Come certainly helps. There, we are told, all our questions will be answered. We will appreciate the justice of everything that happens in this world. In the meantime, while seeking to understand is legitimate, demanding answers is not. When Yirmiyahu Hanavi saw Nevuchadnetzar and his soldiers trampling over the site of the Beis Hamidash, he said, “Where is the awesomeness of Hashem? Doniel saw the nations enslaving the Jews and he asked, “Where is the might of Hashem? The Anshei Knesses Hagedola explained that we see the awesomeness of Hashem in the fact that the Jewish People still exists despite being in exile. We see the might of Hashem because He conquers His desire to destroy the wicked, despite all their decrees against us. (Yuma 69b and Rashi) We can understand that Hashem is awesome in the Jewish People’s continued existence but how can we understand Hashem’s might because He doesn’t destroy them despite their guilt? Let Him punish them! Isn’t justice served by the punishment of the wicked? When the malachim asked if it was just that Torah sages be tortured and massacred by the Romans, Hashem told them that if they persisted, He would turn the world back to sohu vovohu (nothingness)[12]. When Titus, the Roman conquerer of Jerusalem entered the place of the Kodesh Kodoshim blaspheming and committing immorality, Abba Channan said “Who is as strong as You, Hashem? (Tehilim 89:9) that you hear the blaspheming of this evil man and you remain silent.  Devei Rebbe Yishmael said Michomocho bo’ilmim Hashem – Who is like You amongst the speechless? Can we understand this? Is this praise of Hashem, to see such wickedness and not react? To our minds, a bolt of lightning should have immediately exterminated this rasha. What right did Titus have to live even one more second? It seems that what in our minds is obvious, is not obvious in the mind of Hashem. In the words of Yeshayahu “My thoughts are not your thoughts and my ways are not your ways.” (55:20)

Our purpose in this world is to serve Hashem, not to second-guess Him. There are things that we don’t understand and perhaps never will. We have a Torah to learn and keep and we have to live each day according to His will. Each day brings us new challenges and new opportunities. There were those who lost their faith in the Holocaust and we cannot judge them. How would we have reacted in their situation? But many others, even as they lost their lives, did not lose their faith.  They had lived as believing Jews; they died as believing Jews al Kiddush Hashem. And many survivors, despite having experienced the most terrible conditions, did not lose their emuna. On the contrary, they strengthened their emuna and according to the testimony of many, their emuna helped them survive. Their determination to keep whatever mitzvos they could and their hope that soon they would be able to recommence their Jewish lives gave them  the will to continue. Spiritual giants emerged like the Klausenberger Rebbe zt”l  who, despite having lost his own wife and all his children, did everything he could for others both during the war and after. He spent the day of liberation collecting Jewish bodies to give them a Jewish burial! He had no time to wonder where G-d was in the Holocaust[13]. He was too busy using every ounce of his strength to strengthen and rebuild the Jewish people. His greatness was matched by his humility. After the war he was introduced to someone who had given up his religion. This person explained to the Rebbe that G-d cannot exist because how could it that in his town, pious and wonderful people had died and yet he, the town batlan (good for nothing), had survived. The Rebbe said that he had the same question. In his town also many wonderful Jews had died al Kiddush Hashem and just he, also the town’s ‘batlan’, was the sole survivor!

We asked, “Where was G-d in the Holocaust?” I have no ruach hokedesh to give the answer.[14] But we have suggested several approaches which might help those whose emuna is challenged by the question. What we certainly can do, however, is to follow the example of the Klausenberger Rebbe and others – to do what we can to make up for the tremendous loss the Jewish People suffered during the Holocaust, to strengthen ourselves and others, to observe every detail of the Torah even better than before and wait eagerly for the final redemption and the coming of Moshiach, bimheira beyomeinu omein.


[1] There is an article on the subject by Rav Moshe Sternbuch shlita in ‘Rav Moshe Speaks’ published by the Vilna Gaon Center (1988)

[2] The Zohar on Bereishis 37:21 as expounded by the Or Hachaim (ibid) and the Rambam in Moreh Nevuchim 3:12 discuss whether man, whom Hashem has endowed with free choice, has the ability to kill an innocent, even a righteous person. Of course, if he can, the innocent victim will certainly be given a lofty place in the World to Come which will more than make up for his untimely death.

[3] Yevomos 65b

[4] See Yirmiyahu 2:27-28 and Yeshayahu 1:15

[5] Even though Taanis 27b says that if we learn about the korbonos it will be regarded as if we have brought them, how many of us have a proper understanding of the seder korbanos to be confident that we have fulfilled this Chazal. See also Machatzis Hashekel  on Magen Avraham 1:7. “It is not enough…..”

[6] Triumph of Survival by Rabbi Berel Wein p 51

[7] With hindsight we will all admit that these claims by the secularists were utterly false.

[8] Rosh Hashana 23a

[9] Gittin 57a

[10] See the commentary of the Vilna Gaon on the pasuk “And they embittered their lives” (Shemos 1:14) who sees a hint to this in the musical notes with which the baal koreh sings these words.

[11]  Rav Elchanan Wasserman zt”l,  Rav Eliyahu Lopian zt”l, (Lev Eliyahu 1:77),Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer zt”l, The Rebbe of Gur zt”l held that the Holocaust was part of the Chevlei Moshiach.

[12] Yom Kippur Machzor

[13] This is just a figure of speech. We can be sure that the Rebbe zt”l fulfilled the pasuk,Shivisi Hashem L’negdi tamid” throughout his holy life as required by the Shulchan Aruch Orech Chaim(1:1)

[14] Rav Moshe Sternbuch in ‘Rav Moshe Speaks’ p 32 writes, “We have no right to interpret the Holocaust as a punishment for specific sins. Rav Yitschok Hutner zt”l wrote, “We have no knowledge of the specific reason for what befell us. (Jewish Observer 1971).

Revolutionising our Shemoneh Esrei

Avrohom Ovinu’s statement that he is “like dust and ashes” (Bereishis 18:27) is much misunderstood. People often understand that just as dust and ashes are virtually valueless, so Avrohom Ovinu is saying that he regards himself also as having no value. This understanding is not only contradicted by Rashi’s explanation of the posuk but is wrong and dangerous. Rashi says that Avrohom Ovinu meant that if not for Hashem’s help he would have died and become like dust during the war with the four kings and the five kings and he would have become ashes in the furnace of fire into which he was thrown by Nimrod. Far from expressing his low estimate of himself, the words reflect Avrohom Ovinu’s total emuna that we can do nothing without Hashem. This is true humility as we explained in connection with Noach.

To suggest that Avrohom Ovinu would consider himself worthless is preposterous. Imagining that the Torah expects us to consider ourselves worthless is a mistake which could lead to yi’ush and depression. As Nefesh Hachaim explains at length, every mitzvah we do, every pure thought, has a tremendous effect in the higher worlds, which is in turn reflected in brochos which descend later to our world. Naturally, Gedolim and tzaddikim have the greatest effect but we can all contribute in our own way. We have all heard the stories of apparently simple people changing a Heavenly decree through some act of exceptional righteousness.

We can all play a major role in protecting Klal Yisroel from our many enemies as can be learnt from a section of Agadah in Kiddushin (29b). Abaya had a problem with a certain mazik (demon) which was causing harm in his Yeshiva. He heard that the tzaddik Reb Acha bar Yaakov was coming to learn in the yeshiva. Abaya hoped that Reb Acha would destroy the mazik. He engineered that Reb Acha would sleep in the Beis Hamedrash on the first night knowing that the mazik would be sure to try to damage him. The commentators say that Abaya knew that Reb Acha because of his righteousness, would come to no harm. Indeed the mazik, appearing in the form of a snake with seven heads, did try to harm Reb Acha. However every time Reb Acha bowed down in tefilla, one of the heads of the “snake” was destroyed. After his seventh kriah, (bow) the mazik was completely destroyed. Rav Elyashiv in his He’oros on Kiddushin brings from the Shita Mekubetzes that the seven krios were the two at the beginning of the Shmoneh Esrei when we say Boruch Atoh, the two at the beginning and end of Modim and the three times we bow as we say Oseh sholom bimromov…at the end Shemoneh Esrei.

Why was one head of the mazik destroyed every time Reb Acha bowed down? It seems that this is the explanation: bowing down is a way of saying that we cannot stand up without You. You provide us with everything. Nothing else has power. Our enemies have power only if we ascribe power to them. In short, this is the famous concept of ein od milvado (There is nothing without Him.) If we genuinely believe ein od milvado, our enemies automatically lose their strength. Therefore each time Reb Acha bowed down expressing his emuna in ein od milvado, a head of the mazik was destroyed.

This understanding should revolutionise our Shemone Esrei. We have the power to neutralize our enemies as we bow down in Shemone Esrei through the correct kavana that nothing has any power besides Hashem. We may not be on the madreiga of Reb Acha bar Yaakov. Our belief in ein od milvado may not go as deep as it did with the Brisker Rovzt”l who escaped Nazi-occupied Europe, even walking past Nazi soldiers, as he concentrated intensely on ein od milvado. But each of us can achieve something. And together we can do much to protect Klal Yisroel from our enemies. If we are not on the level to destroy our enemies, we can weaken them, so that they will not always succeed in their plans against us. Even at the end of Shemoneh Esrei, when we tend to be mentally into chazoras hashatz or even outside the shul, we have still a major avoda ahead of us; three more krios with which can weaken our enemies and perhaps save Jewish lives. This is not a time to dilute our kavono but rather to bring it to new heights which could save ourselves and others from danger.

Bearing in mind that nothing besides Hashem has any power, we can have greater kavana throughout Shemone Esre. “Only You, Hashem, can maintain our mental health. Only You, Hashem, can redeem us from our tzoros. Only You, Hashem, can give us good health and parnasa. Shema Koleinu, Listen to us, Hashem, because only You can help us.” Our Shemone Esre should never be the same again.

 

Rabbi Fletcher is the mechaber of Do You Know Hilchos Brachos? Do You Know Hilchos Shabbos, From Strength to Strength, Dancing in our Hearts and The Hidden Light.

And Noach Walked With Hashem

“Noach was a perfect tzaddik.” There is no other individual whom the Torah praises in such a way – a perfect tzaddik. This means that he never sinned – not in public, not in private, not in deed, not in thought. Yet immediately afterwards the Torah seems to take something away from Noach. He was “perfect… in his generations”. As Rashi says, “Noach was only a tzaddik compared to the people of his generation. If he had lived in the generation of Avrohom he would have been considered as nothing.” How can this be? He was a perfect tzaddik, who did not sin. How can one say that he would have been considered as nothing” And what imperfection could the Torah be hinting at? Could the proximity to the Yom Tov of Succos have any relevance?

Before trying to suggest an answer, I would like to repeat a concept I once heard from the late Rav Mordechai Miller zt”l of Gateshead. Imagine two rich men and the difference in their assets. One might have £1,000,000, the second £2,000,000. The first can be defined half as rich as the second. This is because we are discussing material assets. Each spiritual asset, however, is of infinite value. A person who knows one mesechta does not know half as much as the person who knows two mesechtas. There is no comparison between the two. An extra mesechta, an extra perek or an extra Mishna puts a person into a completely different world. We could even say that the first person knows “nothing” compared to the second. This is true with mitzvos or midos tovos or any spiritual achievement. Since each one has an infinite value, the more we achieve, the more we raise ourselves into a new spiritual world, incomparable to any other.
We are told (Brochos 58a) that Yishai, the father of Dovid Hamelech was a very special and powerful person in his time. Wherever he went, 600,000 people accompanied him to honour him. Another source (Shabbos 55b) tells us that Yishai was one of only four people who died because of the curse of the nochosh, which means that they died without sin. This is an incredible achievement – “without sin” must include any sin, even the sin of pride. If a person is accompanied by 600,000 people at all times, as a way of honouring him, how could he not fall occasionally into the trap of pride. Did anybody else have such a large entourage? Was he perhaps a malach?

The answer must be that despite the tremendous honour he was given, Yishai thought, “What room is there for pride? Could I take one step if Hashem did not give me the strength? Could I see if Hashem did not enable my eyes to function? Could I even breathe if Hashem decreed otherwise? Everything is only bechasdei Hashem. Today I am alive, tomorrow I might be in the grave. There was no room for pride in Yishai’s mind and when he eventually was niftar, it was only because of the nochosh. He had not sinned, not even with a trace of pride.

Like all of us, during Sukkos Yishai moved from his usual home to live in his sukkoh. Living in a sukkoh would have encouraged him – like us, to feel the humility which is a central theme of the mitzvah. From his quasi-regal travelling arrangements, we can assume his home was very comfortable. But for one week he was under a temporary roof. And if Hashem decided to bring rain or winds, he was as vulnerable as everybody else. What room is there for pride?

Did Yishai have a rôle model for living his life with such anivus? Possibly Noach from our parsha. The posuk says, “Noach walked with Hashem.” (Bereishis 6:9). In what sense did Noach walk with Hashem? In the same way as we have described in connection to Yishai. Wherever he went, whatever he did, he always thought, “Without Hashem, I could not do what I am doing.” He even appreciated that his great achievement – resisting the influence of his generation – was also only through siyata dishmayo. As the Gemoro says, (Kiddushin 30b), “If it were not for Hashem’s help, we could never resist our yetzer hora.”

Now we can understand that the whole posuk is discussing Noach’s humility. He was a complete tzaddik who never sinned, even in the way he compared himself to his generation. “Without help from Hashem, I would be no better than they are.” “And Noach walked with Hashem,” never forgetting that only help from Hashem enabled him to achieve even a single step. Nevertheless the Torah hints that despite his madreiga in humility, he was not on the level of Avrohom Ovinu who called himself “dust and ashes” (Bereishis 18:27). And being on a lower spiritual level is like being in a different world, as we learnt earlier. However great one is, one on the lower level is considered like “nothing” compared to one on a higher level.

To be continued.

בני בני חביבי –  A Tribute to the Residents of Beit Ha’ela

Simchos Bais Hashoeva come in various shapes and sizes. Some take place in a Succa, some in Simcha halls, others in private rooms. At some, people dance to live music, at others people sit in their seats and sing. Some have several droshos, others none at all. Most are simchadik with a joyful Succos atmosphere. Hopefully most Jews go to one or two during Succos. It is part of the beauty of the Jewish calendar that during a complete year we experience  the happiness of Succos, the sadness of Tisha Be’Ov, the solemnity of Rosh Hashono and Yom Kippur and much else besides.

But the Simchas Bais Hashoeva I attended tonight was not similar to any of the above. The people who attended are all patients in a nursing home in the centre of Israel. All of them suffer from serious physical disabilities which prevent them from living at home, if they have one. Some have cognitive impairments, others psychological issues. Some are blind, others are either lacking limbs or have deformed ones. Some have a combination of problems. Some come from religious homes and are quite knowledgable. Others are totally secular but remember the odd aspect of Judaism from their grandparents. I have been visiting them on a weekly basis for some time and have never heard a word of complaint about their situation.

Their four story facility is in pleasant rural surroundings but quite far from the nearest town. Hence most of the time, they have just their fellow residents as company. Besides the staff, many of whom seem to be Russian speaking, there are volunteers who go in and help in some way. I am the only male volunteer and as a Rabbi, I was asked to give a shiur once a week to those who are interested. I punctuate my Divrei Torah and stories with either popular Israeli songs or more traditional Jewish melodies which I have taught them. You should see the delight in the eyes of the Sefardi patients as they get to grips with ‘Yismach Moshe’ with its Yiddish refrains! Thus the group has grown over time. All are made to feel welcome. There’s something for everybody to enjoy.

They had told me the previous week that somebody brings them a lulav and esrog for Succos. Therefore I was quite surprised when my arrival with my lulav and esrog created such a stir. Apparently the person who had brought in previous years hadn’t managed this year so mine was the first. To paraphrase the Gemoro in Succa(51a) – “Anybody who did not see the joy with which these people took the lulav and, some with help, some without help, said the brocho have never seen joy in their life.” This was “Usemachtem Lifnei Hashem Elokaichem” in its most sublime sense. Those in wheelchairs formed the circle, those on two feet were dancing, my lulav was the Sefer Torah. Vesomachto Bechagecho was the theme song on everyone’s lips. The first hakofo had begun.

Eventually the dancing subsided, everyone formed a circle and we spoke about the symbolism of the lulav and the esrog and the message of the Succa. I told them of the time my family and I were walking towards the ‘plane in Ovda airport, north of Eilat on our way to visit our family in England. Behind the plane we could see the rugged mountains of the Negev, with not a blade of grass in sight. . “Look,” I told my family,“when the Bnai Yisroel left Egypt, Moshe Rabeinu told them that we’re going in that direction. They were leaving civilization and going into the unknown. What a leap of faith that required. How could they survive in such surroundings? Our group then sang“ Ko omar Hashem, zocharti loch chesed ne’uraich, ahavas kelulosaich, lechtech acharei bamidbar be’eretz lo zorua” to the well known tune. We could only survive because Hashem was protecting us with His Annanei Hakovod, feeding us Mon from the sky and water from the rock. This is what the succa reminds us of. Everyone in the circle, all with a Jewish neshomo was listening intently.

When Aharon Hakohen was niftar, I told them, the Annanei Hakovod were no longer to be seen. So much so, I said quoting the Gemoro Rosh Hashono (3a), that The King of Arod, alias Sichon Ho’emori, thought that this was an opportune moment to attack. Their G-d is no longer protecting them, he concluded. However he was utterly defeated. He didn’t know the secret. The Annanei Hakovod are no longer visable to the naked eye.

But they are still there, protecting the Jews, from the enemies who have tried to destroy us in every generation. How else could we have survived – a lone lamb surrounded by seventy wolves? We then sang “Vehi she’omdo”  familiar to all those present from the Seder.

I then told them, I wanted to teach them a song from the Zohar. Kad yasvin Yisroel ve’askin besimchas hatorah, Kudshe Brich Hoo omer lefamalia delai “ Chazoo, chazoo,bonai, bonai chavivai demishtachechin bezaaro dilhon ve’askin be chedvasa dili. When the Jewish People are celebrating Simchas Hatorah, the Holy One, blessed be He says to His Heavenly Court – “ Look, look at my beloved children who disregard their own troubles and celebrate My Simcha.”

We sang it with enthusiasm a few times until the tune and the words were familiar. Then I spoke again. At this very moment, I told them,and I could feel my eyes watering already, Hashem is talking to His Ministering Angels and he is pointing down to this room. “See, see My beloved children who have so many problems of their own but they’re not complaining, they’re not bitter about their lot, they’re blind, lame, malformed but they’re singing Ani Maamin, they’re dancing to Vesomachto Bechagecho, they’re looking forward to Yibone Hamikdosh Bimhairo Beyomainu with a pure faith, they’re putting aside their problems and are celebrating My Simcha. Chazoo, chazoo, bonai bonai chavivai – My beloved, beautiful children. We sang the words again, but this time with even more feeling, more intensity. In my thoughts I was again paraphrasing the Gemoro Succa. Whoever has not experienced this Simchas Bais Hashoeva, has never experienced a Simchas Bais Hashoeva in their life.

And in my thoughts, I was looking forward to the real Simchas Bais Hashoeva in the rebuilt Bais Hamikdosh. As the Mishna says all of Klal Yisroel will be there but only the Chasidim and Anshei Maaseh will be dancing in the middle. I am not a prophet, nor the son of a prophet but I wouldn’t be surprised if with all the Gedolai Yisroel of all generations, a call doesn’t come out to invite others into the inner circle of dancers.

Aryeh and Yitschok with their sight now restored, Moshe, Yaakov, Meir and Danni now out of their wheelchairs, Gaddi, his nervous system now functioning normally, Menashe, he sings “Yibone Hamikdosh” with unequalled intencity, with the rest of our group together with all the other holy members of Klal Yisroel who with equal bravery have put aside their personal Tzoros and have celebrated “My Simcha” throughout the generations.

We will stand back as they go forward, the tachtonim will have become the elyonim – bimhairo beyomainu omain

As printed in Rabbi Fletcher’s sefer “From Strength to Strength”

טוב להודות לה’ – It’s Good to Thank Hashem

The Gemara Megila (9a) tells that Ptolemy, the king of Egypt, once gathered seventy-two Jewish elders and put them in separate rooms without telling them why. He then instructed them to write down the text of the Torah. He had separated them to prevent them from conferring together: Had the elders just written the traditional text there would have been a danger that he could have asked apparent contradictions in the text, found insults to his religion or even accused the Jews of encouraging a rebellion against his rule. They all made changes but miraculously they all made identical changes in the text, which are listed in the Gemara. One of them was the text of the pasuk “And He finished on the seventh day the work that He had done and He rested on the seventh day from the work that He had done.” (Bereishis 2:2) All seventy-two elders realised that Ptolemy could have asked a strong question on this pasuk since it implies that Hashem continued the creation of the world on the seventh day before He rested. This would have contradicted the Jewish understanding that Hashem completed the creation on the sixth day and rested on the seventh and consequently challenged the  traditional Jewish observance of Shabbos. Therefore they all changed the text to “And He finished on the sixth day.the work that He had done.

Rashi explains that Chazal understand the pasuk to mean that after the six days of creation there was something — rest — missing, which Hashem ‘created’ on the seventh day. However Ptolemy would not have accepted this explanation and would have claimed that there are mistakes in the Torah. However we have to ask why Ptolemy would not have accepted the explanation of Chazal. Why would he not have agreed that a day of rest is important?

What is the real explanation of the creation of rest? Why was it necessary? The obvious explanation — that people would become tired if they worked without a break — does not fully answer the question. People could rest whenever they were tired or at night. Why is the concept of an official day of rest important. Why is Shabbos so vital? One idea is that Shabbos is the day when we can take a step back to check whether we are living correctly, remembering our ultimate destination. Another  central theme in our working for six days and resting on Shabbos is to reaffirm our belief that Hashem also ‘worked’ for six days to create the universe and rested on the seventh.  On Friday night both in shul and at home we repeat the paragraph Vayechulu  to emphasize this belief publicly. But maybe we can add yet another dimension to our understanding of Shabbos.

In the account of the creation (Ibid 1:27-28), we read, “And Hashem created man in His image, in the image of Hashem He created him, male and female He created them. And He blessed them and He said to them, be fruitful and multiply, fill up the earth and conquer it. Rule over the fish of the sea, the bird of the sky and every living thing that moves on the earth.”

These pesukim define the task of human beings in the world. We are to take everything which we find and use it to develop the world. To utilise what Hashem has created in a way which will benefit mankind. To explore new frontiers, to develop agriculture, to discover healing potential in plant life, to make progress in technology; to ‘conquer’ the world as the pasuk said. However that is for six days. “For six days shall you work.” (Shemos 20:9). On the seventh day we do not work. We do not pursue anything new. We do not look forward but back. We rest and take stock of what we have achieved. We thank Hashem for what we have.

David Hamelech clearly indicated that our task on Shabbos is appreciating what we have and giving thanks to Hashem. Mizmor shir l’yom haShabbos. Tov l’hodos l’Hashem ulezamer l’shimcha elyon. Lehagid baboker chasdecho ve’emunasecha baleilos. “A Song of the Shabbos day. It is good to thank Hashem and to sing to Your name, Oh most High One. To speak of Your kindness in the morning and Your faith in the nights.” (Tehilim 92)   The Radak on this pasuk  says Shabbos is the day we have been given to concentrate on wisdom and the service of Hashem. It is the day ideally suited to giving thanks to Hashem. We should thank Him for all His kindnesses including the wonders of ‘nature’ We have time to think about the miracle of the air which we breathe, how the rain falls to enable crops to grow, how the sun gives us light and warmth and provides for trees, grasses and the vast variety of fruit and vegetables which Hashem has created for us to enjoy, etc.

Chazal instituted that we say Nishmas on Shabbos morning. “… If our mouth were as full as song as the sea, our tongue as full of joyous song as the the multitude of waves, our lips as full of praise as the breadths of the heavens, our eyes as brilliant as the sun and the moon, our hands as outspread as the eagles of the sky, our feet as swift as hinds, we still could not thank You sufficiently Hashem, our G-d and G-d of our fathers and bless Your name for even one of the thousand thousand, thousands and thousands, myriad myriads of favours that You have performed for our fathers and for us. You redeemed us from Egypt, Hashem our G-d, You liberated us from the house of bondage. In famine you nourished us, in plenty You sustained us. From the sword you have saved us, from plague You let us escape and You spared us from severe and enduring diseases…”

On Shabbos we also add to our pesukei d’zimra the twenty-six lines of Hallel Hagadol  which all end with the words ki l’olam chasdo – His kindness is forever. Our feelings of thanks to Hashem during these lines are so intense that it is written that the malachim in shomayim pause their praises of Hashem at that point and allow us to take over. The Ohr Zorua brings a medresh that Hashem refused the request of the Serafim for a seventh wing so they could sing to Hashem on Shabbos as well. Hashem told them that he has the Jewish People who sing to Him on Shabbos.The writer of the zemer, “Kol mekedesh shevi’i” implies in his words “so’adim bo levarech shalosh pe’amim” that we don’t say Birkas Hamazon three times over Shabbos because we have eaten three meals but we eat three meals on Shabbos in order to able to say Birkas Hamazon three times.

Hopefully we all sit at our Shabbos tables with our family and friends and enjoy beautiful foods. What better time is there to thank Hashem for all our blessings? We can think back to the previous week and ask each member of the family, “What good thing happened to you this week?” What did you enjoy most? Whatever answer is forthcoming can be a springboard to thank Hashem.

Shabbos is a gift to the Jewish People. (Beitza 16a) Thanking Hashem is not only an obligation but it gives us great pleasure because when we verbalise our blessings we appreciate them so much more.

Ptolemy and his like would never understand this. They want to conquer more, make more progress, 24/7. To stop is a waste of a day. Indeed, as we say in the Shabbos morning tefila,”…velo nesato legoyei ho’aratzos…” – You didn’t give the Shabbos to the nations of the world. They are not interested in humbling themselves before Hashem. Nebuchadnetzar thought of himself as Hashem’s equal.  (Yeshayahu 14:14). For us, however, admitting that our blessings come from Hashem is a tradition thousands of years old. It is a badge of honor. We enjoy being close to Hashem. He calls us beni bechori Yisroel – my firstborn son. As we say in Musaf Shmone Esrei, those who observe Shabbos achieve honor, life and greatness. Whatever our weekday profession, on Shabbos we dress and look like royalty. And the theme of the day is our declaration Tov lehodos l’Hashem – It is good to thank You, Hashem for all Your blessings.

As printed in my sefer, From Strength to Strength.

Now that’s an Interesting Question

With Succos coming very soon, it is perhaps a good idea to review some halochos of Yom Tov, in particular where they differ from Hilchos Shabbos. It is always beneficial to understand the background to practical halachos in order to have a better grasp of them.

We know that on Yom Tov we are allowed to do certain melachos in the course of food preparation. Lighting a fire to cook food is included in this leniency. We are not allowed to ’create’ a fire but we can take a fire from an existing fire to light the gas to cook the food. What about a fire for non – food purposes? The Mishna (Beitza 12a) says that Beis Hillel allow us on Yom Tov to carry a baby through a reshus horabbim to his bris or a Sefer Torah to be read in shul or a lulav where required on Succos but Beit Shammai do not allow this. The Gemara, in one of two explanations, says that the argument between Beis Hillel and Beis Shammai is whether we can apply a line of reasoning called “mitoch” (seeing that).  Beis Hillel say that “seeing that carrying in the street is permitted for the purpose of food it is also permitted not for the purpose of food.”  Beis Shammai disagree. Assuming the halacha is like Beis Hillel, is this only allowed for the important purposes mentioned in the Mishna or also for lesser needs? Tosfos (Kesuvos 7a) says that carrying a child in the street to enjoy a Yom Tov walk (Simchas Yom Tov) is permitted. But what if I have no need at all, like something I just happen to have in my pocket?  Does my act of carrying for no reason revert to being forbidden according to the Torah or has the whole prohibition of carrying in the street on Yom Tov been cancelled? Or is it forbidden rabbinically? On this there is a further dispute. Rashi (Beitza 12a) says that it is permitted according to the Torah to carry on Yom Tov even if I have no use for what I am carrying. The Rambam agrees with Rashi. It may still, however, be forbidden rabbinically. However Tosfos (ibid) holds that if there if I have no use for the item being carried it is forbidden according to the Torah.

Are we allowed to carry something which I do not need but I am afraid that it will be stolen if I leave it; for instance a key of my house which I will not be returning to over Yom Tov.  I do not need the key on Yom Tov but if I don’t lock the door and take the key with me, my house might be burgled. There is a dispute amongst the poskim about this and the Mishna Berura (518:6) says that it is correct to be stringent. However where the item is used for a mitzvah for instance a talis or lulav , the Mishna Berura (ibid) says that if a person is genuinely concerned that it will be stolen or mislaid and he only took them to shul on Yom Tov morning, he can certainly take them home even though he doesn’t need them for the rest of Yom Tov because if it were not allowed, he might not take them to shul to start with.

Is this concept of “mitoch” applicable with all of the melachos which are allowed on Yom Tov or only some of them? This is again a very controversial subject but Mishna Berura (518:) says that we say “mitoch” in connection with havara, shechita, bishul and afiah.

May we spray a wasp or fly which is annoying us? On the one hand, to kill it is a form of shechita and therefore, even though we are certainly not going to eat it, it should be allowed because of mitoch but on the other hand perhaps this is not a direct benefit similar to carrying a key to avoid a loss of money which we said before we should be stringent about. But why should it be less of a need than carrying a child on a Yom Tov tiyul for oneg Yom Tov which Tosfos (Kesuvos 7a) allowed as mentioned above?

What about lighting candles for a seudas bris? Everyone agrees that we say ‘mitoch’ with havara. The question is here is whether it is considered a need. Lighting when there is no need is called a ner shel batala which is not allowed. The poskim discuss lighting a candle on Yom Tov to show guests around your house. To light a candle because one is afraid to sleep in the dark, the Biur Halacha (514:5) allows. To light in a shul as kovod beis hakenesses is also allowed. A yaarzeit candle, the Biur Halacha (ibid) suggests lighting in shul to avoid doubt. Lighting extra Yom Tov candles by night is allowed because each candle adds extra light but during the day the Mishna Berura (ibid) does not allow it. Finally in connection with lighting candles in honour of a seudas bris, the Shaar Hatziun (514:41) is lenient because it is in honour of the mitzvah similar to lighting in a shul.

As we can see, there are many interesting questions in connection with Hilchos Yom Tov and they can be possibly be discussed in the Succa using some of the more recent sefarim on Hilchos Yom Tov. (“Do You Know Hilchos Yom Tov?” coming out next year IYH). For halocho lemaaseh, though, the final decision in any question should be made by one’s own rav.

How Beautiful Are Your Footsteps

In the Musaf Shemone Esre of Yom Tov we say, “Rebuild Your Temple….establish Your site….May we go up there three times a year…as it says in Your Torah, “Three times a year shall all men appear before Hashem Elokecho….on Pesach, on Shevuos and on Succos . Do not appear empty-handed. Each should come with his own gift, according to the blessing Hashem Elokecho has bestowed upon you.”

We must not appear empty-handed. Chagiga (7a) says that this refers to the korbonos which we have to bring when we come on those three festivals. The Mishna (2a) tells us the minimum. But there is no maximum. We should bring “according to the blessing Hashem has bestowed upon us.” If our flocks have been very productive, we should bring many korbonos to show our appreciation to Hashem.

“How beautiful are your footsteps” (Shir Hashirim 7:2) is interpreted by Chagiga (3a) as a praise of those who went three times a year on the sholosh regolim to the Beis Hamikdosh in Yerusholayim.  Going on foot to Yerusholayim and returning could have taken a few weeks. Multiplied by three, a large part of the year has already been taken up. All farm work had to be put on hold – a significant sacrifice in order to fulfil the mitzva of the Torah and to honour Hashem. If we bear in mind that, for the most part, they brought their wives and families with them to fulfil the mitzva of “giving joy to one’s wife and household on Yom Tov,” (Tosfos, Rosh Hashono 6b) the visit to Yerusholayim became a full-scale expedition. More than that, nobody was left to guard the farms and homes; people had to have bitachon that the promise of the Torah, (Shemos 34:24) “No-one will covet your land whilst you go up to the Beis Hamikdash three times a year,” would be fulfilled. This thrice yearly aliya l’regel was a tremendous demonstration of loyalty to Hashem. The posuk’s praise, “How beautiful are your footsteps” was extremely appropriate.

However the wording of the posuk, “ …yeroeh kol zechuracho” – all males should be seen – implies  more than just going to the Beis Hamikdosh with one’s korbonos. If our boss calls us in for a periodic meeting, he does not intend to discuss the weather. He wants to check up on our work. What have we done since the last meeting? If Hashem wants us to appear before Him, a shiver should go down our spine. An investigation of our worthiness seems to be likely. A meeting with Hashem is also not going to be a social call. What have we achieved since the last meeting, the last regel?

Let’s go back to the office meeting with the boss. He wants to know “tachlis”. How many sales have we achieved? How many new clients have we brought in? Have we been working hard? What about punctuality and a willingness to put in extra hours to achieve more? No, meeting the boss is no picnic.  We have to have answers, good answers.

And what happens if the boss gave us generous expenses to enable us to concentrate on building up the business, we’d better have very good answers. Let’s imagine the boss asking what we’ve done over the last few months for the firm and we answer him, “Well, actually I was busy with private work. I relaxed, took a couple of holidays….” The boss would rightly be very angry, “What, I gave you a salary and extra expenses and you pocketed them and took it easy?”

When we meet Hashem three times a year, he greets us with love. “Hi. Great to see you. It’s amazing you’ve come, with the ganze mishpocho.” But He also wants to know “tachlis”. What have we achieved since the last regel? Another mesechta, a new kevius? Were we misahev al habrios, making Hashem more loved by other people because of what we have done? Perhaps we made sholom with a relative we had been on bad terms with.  Did we do new chasodim, ring up or invite that lonely neighbour we had been meaning to befriend but never got round to? We have to have something to report to the Boss, “according to the blessings He has bestowed upon us.” We cannot go empty-handed. And if we say, “Things are ticking along, nothing new really…” Hashem’s “eyebrows” might go up. “A few months and nothing new? That’s a bit disappointing.”  And if we say, “The last few months I’ve been very busy with other things. I put my avodas Hashem on the back burner.” Hashem will be very disappointed. “Put avodas Hashem on the back burner? But I gave you expenses – parnosoh, good health and you pocketed them? Squandered the time? Did your own thing? That’s not acceptable.” How humiliated we would feel, how disappointed in ourselves. In fact the prospect of that humiliation would ensure that we would have new achievements to report. Chas vesholom that we should appear before Hashem empty-handed. Therefore going to Yerusholayim three times a year did not only transform our Yom Tov experience. Our preparation for those visits would have transformed the whole year.

We do not have the zechus to go to the Beis Hamikdosh three times a year but we hope and daven for that privilege. Therefore we have to do everything we can do to show a real desire to go. And that means making sure that when Yom Tov comes, we are not “empty-handed.” We have Torahdik achievments to our name. We accept all of Hashem’s blessings. We cannot just be doing “our own thing.”  Now is the time to start the list of achievements which we will be able to show to Hashem on Yom Tov, especially if b’ezras Hashem, we can be oleh l’regel to the renewed Beis Hamikdosh – and the words of Shir Hashirim will be apply to us – “How beautiful are your footsteps.”