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October 26, 2014 / 2 Heshvan, 5775
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Believe It

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He was known as one of the most successful and wealthy individuals in the country, and his fame seemed to grow as quickly as his profits. He was the envy of his acquaintances, the bane of his competition. So when the accusations were leveled against him it was an absolute shock. He was accused of murdering a seventeen-year-old girl and the evidence against him was incriminating.

He hired the best defense lawyer – The introductory fees alone were upward of five million dollars. But it was pocket change for the defendant and the lawyer was surely worth it.

The prosecution knew that they would be hard pressed to defeat the defense lawyer. To date, the lawyer had never lost a case, even when his client’s case was weak at best. A young District Attorney took up the challenge.

The case quickly morphed into a media sensation. Journalists from all across the world were on hand to hear “the case of the century.” The D.A. did a masterful job interrogating and proving the prosecution’s case. When he completed his litigation the defense lawyer arose to present his defense. But to the shock of the court he began asking the witnesses seemingly ridiculous questions. “How do you know the murder took place at 3:00 p.m.? What kind of watch was it? What color? How do you know the battery wasn’t dying and the time was off?”

The spectators couldn’t believe what was happening. The prosecution objected to the defense lawyer’s questions on grounds of irrelevance, and the judge was quick to sustain the objection. The judge repeatedly demanded that the lawyer explain the logic for his inane questions.

The case dragged on for weeks, and the same pattern recurred repeatedly. The D.A. would present poignant litigation and proof for their accusations. Then the defense lawyer would follow with trivial and ridiculous questions. The defendant himself was convinced that his lawyer had lost his marbles and that he was a goner.

Finally, after many weeks, it was time for the closing remarks. The D.A. faced the jury and made his impassioned statement. “Ladies and Gentlemen, the face you are looking at is the face of a murderer. We have offered conclusive and undeniable proof that he has committed this heinous crime. But he did not just murder a seventeen-year-old girl. He also murdered her children and her children’s children, and all of the lives she could have touched, but now never will.”

When he sat down and the defending lawyer arose to make his closing remarks the tension in the room was palpable. Yet the lawyer was as calm and composed as ever. With finesse and poise he emphatically stated, “Your honor and distinguished members of the jury, it is hardly a secret that for the duration of this case I have made a mockery of the trial. I now reveal to you that the reason I did so is because this trial is indeed just that – a mockery. You see the girl was never murdered. I have been in contact with her all along. She feigned the whole story so that she could run away from home without being followed. To prove it in ten minutes she will walk through the door and enter the courtroom.”

A collective gasp escaped the room as the defendant smugly sat down. They all waited with bated breath as the minutes ticked by. But then ten minutes turned into twenty, and then thirty, and then an hour. Finally the judge ordered the defense to present some proof or he would be held in contempt of court.

The defense lawyer arose again. “Your honor, and ladies and gentlemen of the jury, as you are all well aware the law states that a defendant cannot be prosecuted unless it can be proven – beyond a reasonable doubt – that the defendant committed the crime. My friends, by virtue of the fact that you have all been wordlessly staring at the courtroom door for the last hour proves that you all have a reasonable doubt. Therefore, I believe you cannot prosecute my client.”

The courtroom was launched into an uproar. The journalists could not get over the brilliance of the lawyer. He had outfoxed the prosecution and the jury would have no choice but to pardon the obviously guilty defendant. Indeed the jury returned after a mere five minute recess with their verdict.

The room was silent as the head juror made his statement, “We find the defendant… GUILTY… of first degree murder.” The courtroom again burst into a frenzy. The judge smashed his gavel down and called for order. Then he asked the jury for an explanation. The head juror turned to an elderly juror who arose and explained, “Your honor, the defense indeed presented a most convincing argument based on the virtue of the fact that we were all watching the back door. But you see, while everyone else was staring at the door I was staring at the defendant. I noticed that he did not even glance at the door once during that hour. Do you know why? Because he knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that the young woman was not going to walk through that door. He knew that because he himself must have killed her!”  Staum-092013-Man

The courtroom quickly began to empty out as people murmured about the amazing proceedings they had witnessed. As the police officers handcuffed the defendant the lawyer looked at him angrily and quipped, “You dumb fool. If you would have only looked at the door one time, you would be a free man now. But if you yourself don’t believe the alibi, or at least demonstrate your belief in the alibi, how can you expect anyone else to believe it?!”[1]

 

Rosh Chodesh Elul was the beginning of a month long process of introspection and preparation. We scrutinized our actions and pondered how we could improve ourselves in a lasting manner during the coming year. During the week of Rosh Hashanah we commenced the recitation of selichos pleading with the Almighty that He quiet His justifiable wrath and exercise His attribute of mercy.

On Rosh Hashanah we reaccepted our unyielding allegiance to G-d’s eternal Kingship, replete with the blowing of the shofar, as the first step of our repentance. During the subsequent Days of Penitence we prepared for the awesome and holy day of Yom Kippur, begging our Father and King to grant us a tabula rasa, wherein we could begin anew.

The conclusion of Yom Kippur immediately segues into an exciting four days of preparation for the holiday of Sukkos. The sukkah itself must be built according to halachic parameters, then furbished, and decorated. The Four Species must be painstakingly analyzed for perfection and then purchased. This is all aside from all the other Yom Tov preparations that must be done.

The holiday itself is termed “Z’man Simchasaynu – The season of our joy.” Although there is an obligation to be in a state of joy during every festival, there is no explicit commandment to feel joy written in regards to Pesach. The obligation is written once in regards to Shavuos. Conversely, in regards to the holiday of Sukkos the Torah states three times that one must rejoice during the festival!

The commentators explain that the joy of Sukkos is inextricably bound to the blissful delight of having achieved atonement and forgiveness on Yom Kippur. The joy of Sukkos is manifest in so many ways, including taking the Four Species during each day of the holiday, the Simchos Bais Hashoayvah[2] celebrations virtually every night of the festival, culminating with the uninhibited joy of Simchas Torah.

But there is an added dimension to the emphasis of joy during Sukkos. If one does not feel a sense of happiness on Sukkos it is seemingly indicative of his lack of confidence in the veracity of his efforts during the Days of Awe. He is analogous to the defendant who did not look at the door because he knew the alibi was false.

Rav Shlomo Carlebach a”h asked why we recite the blessing “Selach Lanu – Please forgive” in the prayers following Yom Kippur. If one did not achieve forgiveness from the passionate prayers of Ne’ilah it is hardly likely that he will do so from the prayers afterwards?

He answered that in the prayers after Yom Kippur we must ask G-d’s forgiveness for not believing in our own efforts. We spent the day immersed in prayer and repentance, and conducting ourselves like angels. Yet we are skeptical and wonder if perhaps G-d does not love us and does not accept our prayers. For that skepticism we must beg forgiveness after Yom Kippur is over. We have an obligation to believe that G-d, Who loves us dearly, awaits our prayers and grants us atonement.

Our joy on Sukkos reflects that confidence and therefore is a vital continuation of our efforts on Yom Kippur. Perhaps that is why the judgments that were sealed on Yom Kippur are not dispatched to the world until Hoshanah Rabbah[3]. G-d waits to see if we believe in our own efforts before He dispatches the sealed verdict to this world. Even one who did not emerge meritoriously from the precise judgments of the Days of Awe, has a chance to accrue merits and alter the decree before Hoshanah Rabbah.

If one demonstrates genuine inner joy at the opportunity afforded to him to reconnect with His Creator during these days, that itself is an incredible merit which can alter the judgment.

 


[1] The following essay is based on the lecture given at Kehillat New Hempstead, second day of Sukkos 5770. I originally heard the story from Rabbi Zechariah Wallerstein.

[2] Literally ‘the joy of the water drawing,’ our celebrations commemorate the magnificent celebrations that transpired during the days of Sukkos when the Bais Hamikdash stood in Yerushalayim. Those vents were centered around the pouring of the water libations down the side of the Mizbayach, hence the name of the event.

[3] The seventh and final day of Sukkos (immediately followed by the new holiday of Shemini Atzeres) has an aura of judgment and has many similarities with Yom Kippur, as revealed to us in the holy and mystical Zohar. We recite added prayers and there is an added dimension of solemnity that merges with the joy of the holiday.

About the Author: Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW is the Rabbi of Kehillat New Hempstead, as well as Guidance Counselor and fifth grade Rebbe in ASHAR, and Principal at Mesivta Ohr Naftoli of New Windsor. He can be reached at stamtorah@gmail.com. Visit him on the web at www.stamtorah.info.


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