web analytics
July 8, 2015 / 21 Tammuz, 5775
At a Glance
InDepth
Sponsored Post


Home » InDepth » Op-Eds »

In The Past We See Our Future

Safran-052512

The past is never dead. It’s not even past. – William Faulkner

We Jews are a people of memories. Our past defines who we are. The past infuses our religious lives with context, purpose and meaning. How could we be if not for knowing how we were?

Our festivals and Yomim Tovim speak to our relationship with our past in unique and powerful ways. However, even in this uniqueness, Shavuot stands out.

Reb Levi Yitzchok of Berditchev offered three explanations as to why Shavuot is also referred to as Atzeret, even though the Torah only uses the term Atzeret in association with the festival of Shemini Atzeret, not Shavuot. First, while labor is forbidden on all Yomim Tovim, festivals have specific practical mitzvah observances associated with their celebration. On Pesach, we eat matzah and drink four cups of wine. On Sukkot, we dwell in the sukkah and take the daled minim. But on Shavuot only the cessation of work is commanded. Thus, Shavuot is known as Atzeret, signifying its only form of Yom Tov.

The Kedushat Levi further explained that the names of all Yomim Tovim reflect a specific historical event to be commemorated in subsequent generations in a religious sense. Shavuot, however, is not a name reflecting any historical event. It is an identifier of time, the completion of the mitzvah of counting Sefirat Ha’Omer. Celebrating a “conclusion” seems at odds with Jewish practice. We celebrate in anticipation of coming celebrations, of the mitzvot to be fulfilled more than those already fulfilled. Our joyous anticipation is the reason for reciting the Shehecheyanu prior to observing a mitzvah rather than at its conclusion.

Even so, Judaism teaches that joy and religious ecstasy are derived from accomplishment and fulfillment. For the religious and learned Jew, there is no greater joy than the joy found in celebrating a siyum – celebrating the privilege and opportunity in having completed a significant part of Torah. The siyum is not unbridled celebration, however. Although it marks completed accomplishment, it does so with full awareness of the anxieties of finality.

We fear completion as much as we celebrate it. Imagine the overwhelming joy of the soon to be celebrated Siyum HaShas – completing of all Shas once in seven years, while simultaneously anxious whether seven years hence I will be able to rejoice yet again. Seven years is a long time. For this reason the committed student of Torah proclaims “Hadran halach” – “I shall return to you.”

The genuine Jew wants not only to celebrate the joys of yesterday, but even more to anticipate the hopes of tomorrow.

This, then, is the essence of the Shavuot Atzeret experience. Rashi comments that it is Shemini Atzeret that focuses on our need to linger, to continue the joys of celebration rather than allow them to come to an abrupt ending – shekashe alai peridatchem. Shavuot marks the completion of the mitzvah of counting the Omer. Atzeret induces us to continue the effect of the goals toward which we counted.

The Kedushat Levi, in concluding that when a Jew experiences a religious awakening and reaches a spiritual elevation he embraces an inner urge to translate the love, ecstasy, and yearning into practical application, is in accord with the Ramban.

The Ramban interprets the verse in the Song of Songs “Mah tairu umah teoreru et ha’ahavah ad shetechpatz” – “That you awaken not, nor stir up love, until it pleases” – to mean that free and unfettered love is mere “sound and fury” unless it finds a mode of practical expression. In the same way, one cannot love or worship God in theory. Religious inspiration and exultation demand ad shetechpatz. Such a religious fervor calls for the creation of chefetz, keli, a vessel through which to express and manifest these innermost feelings and emotions.

The Jews at Sinai obviously reached these highest levels of religious exultation and fervor, but did not as yet possess any practical means of expression other than the fulfillment of the negative command to hold back and refrain from “touching the mountain.” Thus the Yom Tov is known as Atzeret, recalling the one and only commandment, the only “vessel” now available to translate their deep religious feelings.

About the Author: Rabbi Dr. Eliyahu Safran is an educator, author and lecturer. He can be reached at e1948s@aol.com.


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

No Responses to “In The Past We See Our Future”

Comments are closed.

Current Top Story
Yeshiva boys learn Torah together at Beit Midrash Derech Chaim.  Due to their participation in a pre-army intelligence program, the IDF requires their identities to remain secret.
Exclusive: First IDF Cyber-Defense Program Opens at Yeshiva
Latest Indepth Stories
Terms of Surrender

Dear Pres. Obama, A “deal” in which one side makes all the concessions is, of course, a “surrender.”

Michael Oren, Israel's Former Ambassador to the United States

ALLY is a terrific read because Oren has a mission: Defending&protecting the Jewish State of Israel.

George Soros: No friend of Israel

George Soros: “European anti-Semitism is the result of the policies of Israel and the United States”

President Obama

Sources say seemingly irreconcilable differences between the 2 main parties, Washington and Tehran.

Instead of accepting reality, the President is trying to hold on to an illusion.

Those who suggest further capitulation to Iran are wrongly harming the interests of the West.

Few Arab Israelis found anything positive in the decision of its MKS to join any Gaza flotilla.

US Jews prefer to be like their non-Jewish liberal friends complaining about “settlements” and Bibi

New Israel Fund & its supporters must be countered; Israel’s in the midst of an unprecedented storm

PM Netanyahu this week identified ISIS and Iran as Israel’s primary threat. It is a planetary threat that carries the promise of peace.

Haym Solomon, overlooked hero of the Revolutionary War, was America’s “Funding Father.”

Latvia, July 4, 1941 they forced many Jews in the shul putting it on fire; everyone was burned alive

There’s blood on the reporters’ hands AND New Israel Fund for funding groups feeding lies to the UN

Respect & appreciation for our country is not only a civic value but an essential Jewish one as well

When words lose meaning, the world becomes an Orwellian dystopia; a veritable Tower of Babel

Israel, like the non-radical Islamic world. will be happy see the ISIS beheaded for once.

More Articles from Rabbi Eliyahu Safran
Rabbi Eliyahu Safran

What makes a man dedicated to what is best, stray? What makes a leader, a rabbi, lose his way?

Rabbi Eliyahu Safran

Peace/Shalom/Wholeness: A gift conferred; earned and received by God’s grace; His blessing.

Lag B’Omer became the “Scholar’s Festival” reminding all that derech eretz kadmah l’Torah-

The only way to become humble is honesty about our experiences; it’s the only path to true humility

Too rarely appreciated for its symbolic weight; it can represent freedom and independence.

Jews cover the head not as ID but because wearing it makes concrete to ourselves our devotion to God

It’s easier to take Jews out of galus than to take galus out of Jews – Chassidic master

What is its message of the dreidel?” The complexity and hidden nature of history and miracles.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/in-the-past-we-see-our-future/2012/05/23/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: