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Posts Tagged ‘Simchas Torah’

The Joy of Achdus

Wednesday, October 10th, 2012

Now that the Daf Yomi cycle has reached Meseches Shabbos I’d like to take this opportunity to remind those who are participating in it that my son, Rabbi Meyer Maryles (pictured), will be giving on-line in depth daily Shiurim on the Daf on the website Shas Illuminated. If you want more out of a Blatt Gemarah than Pashut Peshat, this site is for you. Once you learn the Daf, listen to this Shiur. It will truly enhance the Daf Yomi experience. Speaking of Torah – it was just Shemini Atzeres, the last day of the holiday season. In Israel that day is combined with Simchas Torah. I celebrated that day here in Israel with my son and his family.

On Simchas Torah we complete the yearly reading cycle of the Torah by reading its final Parsha followed by beginning anew the reading of the very first section of Bereshis.The day is also marked by doing Hakafos, both at night and during the day. Men holding Sifrei Torah circle the Bima seven times in special song. That is the formality. But it doesn’t end there. There is spontaneous singing and dancing after each Hakafa by those holding the Sifrei Torah as well as most of the rest of the people in the Shul (or in a Yeshiva as the case may be).

This practice has expanded to massive proportions reflecting great joy on that day, by those who learn Torah and by all who adhere to its precepts. The joy and exuberance by religious Jews – young and old – in celebrating this event on this day is palpable.

It doesn’t matter to what segment of Orthodox Jewry one belongs. All segments celebrate this day with the same exuberance.

It is truly the Torah which unites us all, right to left. Those of us who participate in this event are sincere in our feelings of joy. It doesn’t matter if one is Charedi or MO; Chasidic or Yeshivish; Asheknazi or Sephardi; Mizrachi or Agudah. It is a true moment of Achdus for all. Jews all over the world are all dancing to the same tunes and for the same reasons.

When I get a bit fatigued at the amount of dancing, I remind myself of this very plain fact and it renews my hope for the future. With all the things that divide us, there is so much more that unites us. Achdus is what Simchas Torah is all about. At least for me.

We have concluded the holiday season. One that involves great intensity on religious matters. Beginning with the month of Elul and culminating well into Tishrei – almost two months of celebration which begins with solemnity and repentance and ends in a great joy. I like to think that the Achdus in which this season ends is a sign for us about what our goals as a people should be.

Visit the Emes Ve-Emunah blog.

Road to Recovery

Friday, October 5th, 2012

Dear Brocha,

Thank you so much for your honesty! Since you have bared your soul, I now feel I can do the same. While growing up, the Yomim Tovim were always my favorite times of the year. On Sukkos we always went sukkah hopping, to Simchas Bais Ha’Shoeva, and boy did we dance on Simchas Torah. On Purim we went collecting in fancy cars, danced in the streets to the leibedike music, and had a mesiba in yeshiva where we danced with our rabbeim. On Pesach we ate lots of delicious food and yet we still complained that we had so little to eat. We went on fun Chol Ha’Moed trips and made good wholesome memories together as a family.

Today, I am a father of six bochurim b”ah. While I love and appreciate all of my children, unfortunately the Yomim Tovim aren’t filled with the good memories as in the days of yore. You see, one of my sons got involved with the wrong crowd, and at 16 he looks forward to Shabbos and Yom Tov as simply another opportunity to drink. Now that Sukkos is almost upon us, instead of joyfully anticipating, I am cautiously fearful about what Simchas Torah will bring.

Simchas Torah is a celebration of Klal Yisroel’s completing and re-commencing the cycle of reading the heilige Torah. It is a time when we can reach great heights in our closeness to HaKadosh Baruch Hu. It is a time for parents to enjoy their sons getting an aliyah, dancing with them and watching them be showered with candies to symbolize the sweetness of the words of the Torah. All of this is greatly encouraged!

However, my 16-year-old son has graduated from candies to liquor. Last year someone had to call Hatzolah because he appeared to be so inebriated, we thought he might have had alcohol poisoning. Some of the members of our shul were concerned about adults getting into trouble for giving liquor to minors, so instead he was taken to a local pediatrician who instructed us on what to look for so he wouldn’t have to have his stomach pumped. I was hoping that this scare would make him abstain from liquor for good. Yet now, he simply recounts that incident with pride as if it’s his rite of passage to adulthood. Unfortunately, most of the young adults pat him on the back and give him high fives over this “great accomplishment.”

Just last week, my wife and I told him, in no uncertain terms, that his behavior was unacceptable. We also told him that while we try to look the other way when he takes a drink on Shabbos, we would not permit him to get drunk on Simchas Torah. We also told him that if we saw him drinking, we would be forced to take him home. Boy was I shocked by his reaction! He told us that if he were offered a drink, he would not refuse it. He said that while he will not drink on his own, if others offered him a drink, he would partake.

I know that liquor flows freely in our shul on Simchas Torah and I can’t stop it from happening. I went to discuss this with the rov, who was empathetic, yet said he can’t enforce a change to this tradition. My wife and I even considered going to our married son for the second days of Yom Tov so there would be no temptations, however, our son informed us that in his shul there are plenty of l’chaims on Simchas Torah as well. We have desperately been searching for an alcohol free or alcohol reduced shul and are unable to find one. Why do people think they need alcohol to attain a level of simchas hachaim? Why can’t we get a spiritual high through the kedushas hayom? Where have the days gone, when our primary concern was that there was too much candy being given out in shul?

A Worried Father

Dear Worried Father,

What a terrible way to have to look at Yom Tov! I actually believe that the dilemma you face is far greater than just the issue of Simchas Torah. The teenage years are chock full of episodes of experimenting and asserting one’s independence. As teens transition into adulthood, they often become tempted to partake in what they perceive as adult activities. They want to follow their parents’ lead, try the activities already done by their friends and establish their own identities. Alcohol frequently becomes a factor in this struggle. Many teens will likely turn to alcohol or other substances during their teenage years. Seventy percent of high school students have had at least one alcoholic beverage, and they are often with their friends when they drink.

Z’man Simchasenu – The Time of Our Happiness

Thursday, September 27th, 2012

Sukkos! What an exciting Yom Tov! So many different mitzvos, each with their own color and flavor. Dwelling in the sukkah, taking the 4 species, dancing at the simchas beis hashuava and on Simchas Torah … Nevertheless, there is one theme which runs through all these aspects. “Vesamachta bechagecha atah uvincha, uvitecha, ve’avdecha, va’amasecha, vehaLevi, vehager, vehayasom. veha’almanah asher bish’areycha – You shall rejoice on your festival along with your son and daughter, your male and female slave, and the Levite, proselyte, orphan and widow from your settlements” (Devorim 16:14). This extensive list makes it quite clear to us: Everyone should be b’simcha on Sukkos! Hence in Shemoneh Esrei we refer to Sukkos as “Z’man simchasenu – the time of our Happiness.” During every Yom Tov we must be happy, but regarding Sukkos the Torah commands us three times to be b’simcha, more so than any other Yom Tov. Why is this Yom Tov the happiest one?

Furthermore, if we are supposed to be in a state of happiness, why specifically now must we leave our comfortable, climate-controlled homes and live in a primitive hut? And why do many have a custom to read the megilla of Koheles – Ecclesiastes, on the Shabbos during Sukkos? In it, Shlomo HaMelech tells us how he had fabulous wealth and materialistic pleasures. Nevertheless, he describes it all, again and again, with one word: “Hevel – Emptiness!” Why do we read what seems to be a depressing megillah during the time of joy?

Chag Ha’asif – The Festival of Ingathering

The midrash (Yalkut Vayikra 654) reveals to us one of the reasons for the extra simcha: “and because now all the crops have been brought into the storehouses.” This can be seen from the fact that the Torah (Devorim 16:13) points out that Sukkos is “be’ospecha migornecha umiyikvecha” when we bring in from the threshing floor and wine vat. Hence, another name of Sukkos is Chag Ha’asif – The Festival of Ingathering. We can certainly imagine the great joy of the farmer as he fills his storehouses after almost a year of toil and anticipation. At this time of extreme happiness the Torah commands us to celebrate Sukkos. Why?

Human nature is to constantly look forward to the future. A young boy looks forward to his bar mitzvah, and after that toward his graduation, and after that to his wedding, and then to his first child, and so on. This is quite unfortunate, as we never enjoy what we have presently. The Torah is teaching us that before we begin the new planting season, we should look back at what we have and appreciate it. This of course is not limited to those who have farms. We all should look back at what we received over the past year and thank Hashem for it.

But this raises a different question. Since we are celebrating last year’s bounty, shouldn’t Sukkos be celebrated before the New Year starts?

Hevel

Let us return to Koheles. How is it that Shlomo HaMelech just wipes away great portions of Hashem’s creation with one word, calling them empty? If Hashem created them, obviously they have a purpose! And furthermore – if these things are all empty, why did Shlomo have them?

The Sefer Otzar Hachaim gives a beautiful explanation. We all know that “zero” has no value. However if we put a “one” next to it, it becomes significant. The more “zeros” after the “one” the greater the value is! Shlomo Hamelech is telling us that if we view materialism as a goal in itself, it is one big zero – hevel. However, if we realize that all materialism is a way to reach spirituality, it takes on a new perspective. This is why the megillah ends off: “Sof davar hakol nishma, es Elokim yira v’ies mitzvosov shimor, ki zeh kol hadam – In the end all is heard, fear Hashem and keep His mitzvos for this is the purpose of man.” This posuk teaches us the true purpose of the world – to keep Hashem’s mitzvos.

This message became clearer to us during the Yomim Hanoraim, as stated in the midrash. “L’Dovid, Hashem Ori V’yishi - Hashem is my light and salvation – Hashem is our light on Rosh Hashana and our salvation on Yom HaKippurim.” On Rosh Hashana, a great light shined, which showed us the true purpose of the world. Spirituality and closeness to Hashem is our only goal. By dwelling in the King’s presence for two days our outlook changed. And then on Yom Kippur we showed Hashem who the real “me” is and how showed regret for all of our past pursuits of worldly pleasures. He then saved us from any harsh verdict which may have been written for us.

SWEETS to the SWEET!

Thursday, September 27th, 2012

Dear Rachel,

As I write this letter, it is chaotic in many homes where children are between camp and school, which has not yet started. Kids running in and out of the house are always looking to munch on something, and exasperated moms let them raid the nosh cabinet.

But it doesn’t start here. This past summer I discovered that sending children to sleep away camp means having to send them a package from home at least once a week. It takes little imagination to guess what those packages are filled with: candy, cookies, chips and chocolate, and more candy. Bags and bags of them. A dentist’s dream; they will earn enough to put all their children through college for sure.

When my kids were younger and went away to camp, I too let them know I was thinking of them; I sent them a goody box twice – if they were there for the entire season. The problem begins with the children who arrive in camp loaded with enough nosh to open a canteen of their own. This creates envy on the part of the “unluckier” kids whose luggage contains only the required clothing and bed linen items, and a case of bottled water.

Why do camps allow this ridiculous abuse to run rampant? Yes, I said abuse. It’s abuse of our children’s physical and mental capacities, abuse of our wallets and abuse of the camp’s food allotments. (The leftovers from meals served to campers whose systems are overloaded on garbage can feed a small army.)

To begin with, camps should limit the amount of candy each child brings or hoards, and they should furthermore place limits on the contents of packages received by campers. Parents of moderate means have a hard enough time meeting the expenses involved in sending their kids to camp without having to go to this ridiculous added expense. And what about the frustration of parents who go all out promoting proper nutrition in the home, only to have their efforts dashed in the span of a summer season in camp?

I was always under the impression that the whole idea of sending kids off for the summer is to give them the advantage of fresh air, sunshine and exercise — after being cooped up for long winter months. Seems to me that all of this permissive unhealthy gorging somehow defeats the purpose we had in mind to begin with.

In this day and age no one can claim ignorance of the value of nutrition or feign oblivion of the benefits of wholesome foods to young, developing minds and bodies. If I may, I’d like to suggest readers check out the excellent Health & Living insert of the August 31st issue of The Jewish Press (if they haven’t yet done so). It has some great articles and one of them discusses the effects of sugary cereals that are a big part of many children’s food fare. The author of the piece speaks about these kids’ behavioral issues in school and of how they’re easily frustrated, mistake-prone and devoid of energy as their day progresses.

I would also like to address the shul Candyman whose sweet nature has young admirers flocking to him in droves: Would it be so terrible to hand out healthier treats to our children? How about substituting honey-wheat pretzels, kettle-baked chips, almonds, raisins and other dried fruit for the empty calorie kind of sweets? Even if the kids fill up on them and skip dinner, they’ll at least have had some nutrients in their system.

A Concerned Bubby

Dear Concerned,

Ouch! You laid the goo on thick. Sometimes facing the truth is almost as uncomfortable as sitting in the dentist’s chair. By pointing out the folly of feeding our kids junk, you may have touched on some other sticky issues.

Can parents (of kids who are in camp) be spoiling them out of guilt for their glee in having them out of their hair? Maybe those packages are meant to keep them happy so that they G-d forbid don’t entertain any notions of coming home early. Or perhaps this is just some parents’ way of saying “we miss you tons.”

If I recall correctly from years back, at least one girls’ camp confiscated incoming packages and kept the stuff in the camp office, allowing the camper just a minimal of its content. I believe the camp had instituted a “no food packages allowed” rule at the start and made sure to enforce it. Many campers were no doubt disappointed, but the headaches associated with these packages – such as peer envy, tummy aches, no appetite for dinner, bugs in the dorms, increased tooth decay – were avoided.

A Plea To My Husband’s Ex

Thursday, December 8th, 2011

 Note from Dr. Respler: The following is an open letter submitted to us by a reader.  Some of the details have been altered to respect the privacy of all involved.

I am writing to you on my husband’s – your ex-husband’s – behalf. While driving home from work the day after Sukkos, my thoughts were occupied with his broken heart. I do not always clearly hear his pain, but that day my heart began to ache for the pain you are putting him through.

Sukkos, more specifically, Simchas Torah, was especially difficult for him. He went to shul to dance with the Torah, but knowing that his two sons and daughter were nowhere near him (or even allowed to spend quality time with him) made simchas Yom Tov hard to achieve.

We have an elderly Jewish immigrant who eats at our house on Yom Tov and Shabbos, so when he told us that he couldn’t wait for the hakafos to end so he could eat the meal, my husband asked a rabbi in the shul if he should leave early. When he was told to grant the orayach his wish, my husband complied – while in truth, he was relieved. He sees other men with their children and grandchildren, and it breaks his heart that he is denied the right to spend time with his children.

Oh, you have your reasons. And you make sure that everyone who fights on his behalf knows all of your “valid” reasons for why he cannot have access to them. There was the time five years ago when he said that Danny didn’t draw nicely, or that at times he buys a present for one of the kids – but not all of them. Or that at times he talks about Moshiach to the kids.  Truly evil behavior! Is that enough to warrant almost virtual excommunication from his offspring?

And how wrong and abnormal was it for him to try to spend a half hour during the summer, when his sweet boy was off from yeshiva, learning some Torah with him once a week? His son was chalishing for this, as he was bored out of his mind. You hadn’t planned anything special for him to do during his free time. Yet, my husband’s desire to learn with his son was apparently so “wrong” that it was deserving of a lecture from his mother and uncle about how this would harm him.

And how “awful” is it that he spends hundreds of dollars on a piece of jewelry for his only daughter? When he finds out that she is allergic to the jewelry, he makes a special trip back to the jeweler and pays the extra cost to make it okay – only to find out that his daughter does not wear it. I understand why she doesn’t – if her mother exhibits such hatred towards her father, who would want to even keep a piece of jewelry from him around?

We have discovered that many of the presents we buy end up in the garbage. Is that proper chinuch? And does that reflect to the children that there’s something wrong with their father?

I am not saying that my husband is perfect, nor am I discounting the fact that, as I understand, you had to put up with a lot as a new, young couple. But I have seen my parents, siblings and grandparents go through tough times and yet find ways to stand by each other. My husband also assures me that there were really good times as well in your marriage.  It seems that you have chosen to only focus on the really awful times you had together.  Perhaps you do that to justify taking the seemingly easy way out and close the door on any whiff of the past. Thus, you keep on mishandling the present and future happiness of the children without a guilty conscience.

Were it up to me, as a newly married couple, I would be happy with things as they are – since we become closer every day. The truth is that having these children in our lives right now seems like interference in what is an otherwise cozy, loving relationship. But I cannot be selfish, as my husband is so badly hurt and desires so deeply for some quality time with his sons and daughter. And I don’t mean five minutes spent at the front door before every passerby. He would like a phone number where he can reach you or his children. He wants to know that they are okay.

Is that too much to ask?

My husband recently went to his son’s cheder to drop off some nosh and a cute picture of the two of them that they had taken a few months back. While walking through the halls, he noticed a bulletin board that displayed family trees of the students – a very positive concept. But representing his son were only pictures of your new husband and his parents, with nothing to show that my husband and his family even existed. My husband was hurt to the core. I ask you: how healthy is it for your children to be raised this way, with no acknowledgment of who their father is or from where his children come?

My husband had so looked forward to showing his son that he loved him and thought of him often, even though his access to him and his other children is so limited. But not only did he have to see evidence that you are attempting to erase his existence, you then had your husband call to say that you were contacting the schools and informing them my husband should not be allowed to see the children – even threatening to call the police if the visits did not stop.

Despite your claim that your son was upset that his father visited, I need to let you know that every encounter between them is usually so loving, and full of hugs and kisses – until recently. A recent phone call exchange between them was strange, as your son laughed hysterically during the entire conversation. I attribute this to conversations in your home that paint my husband in a very unfavorable light. That is the only reason for this child to react so negatively to his father’s phone call.

Friends of ours, some of who have gone through divorces, assure us that once the children come of age, they will turn to him of their own accord. We have spoken to professionals who are horrified that the children are being raised in an environment that fosters only negativity toward their father. Many family members and friends are mystified at your behavior, having believed that once you remarried, and hopefully became happy, you would change your attitude and be happy to have the children get to experience their father’s love.

However, this is not the case.  We are coming to terms with this situation, albeit regrettably. With the children still relatively young, there is still time to make some changes. Will you take advantage of this opportunity? They have so much to learn from their father – his tremendous love for his fellow Jew, his constant acts of chesed, and his love of Torah and mitzvos. And don’t discount his gorgeous voice, beautiful zemiros and, of course, his amazing ability to make people laugh. His children are truly missing out on all this. Do not wait until the children have to find all this out on their own.

Do the right thing now.

Anonymous

 

Dear Anonymous:

I have no words to express my empathy for the pain that your husband is enduring.

In the spirit of Chanukah we hope that people reading this letter will try to make shalom with their former spouses, and allow them access to their children. Thank you for your eloquent words. Hatzlachah!

Dancing A Holy Neshamah Back Home

Wednesday, December 1st, 2010

We had just finished celebrating the High Holidays in Boca Raton. With the intensity of those days behind us, we were looking forward to visiting my family in New York. The kids were so excited and counted down the days until they would see their Bubby and Zayde, aunt, uncle, and cousins. Never did I realize that while I was deciding what clothes to pack for the Yom Tov of Sukkos, I would also be packing clothes for my father’s levayah.

The first days of Sukkos were so beautiful – all the family together, the long meals, my children fighting to sit next to their Zayde. Even the weather was perfect. The topic of conversation was my dad telling my bechor, Yoni, how happy he was to buy him tefillin for his upcoming bar mitzvah. My son would joke around with him that he should buy him a car instead. My dad would say, “A car will get you far, but tefillin will get you much further.”

My father loved shul; he would always talk about the importance of place and time in Judaism. He was saddened when one of my sons didn’t show up at shul on Shabbos Chol HaMo’ed. I explained to my father that he was just tired from staying up late the night before; my father responded, “Would he have been able to wake up on time if he was going to the Giants game, instead of to shul?” The truth is, my boys were scheduled to go to the Giants game the next morning, and I knew there is no way they would have missed it, no matter how tired they were. “Well,” said my father, “shul is more important than any Giants game where we just watch a game of players. In shul, we participate as the players. The real “Giants” are those steeped in prayer.”

The next couple of days of Chol Hamoed where amazing; we spent so much time together. We went to Hershey Park, bowling, a simchas beis hashoeva – every minute was jam-packed. Even when we got rained on at Hershey Park, my dad was able to turn it into fun. We have so many pictures and memories from that week.

I will never forget the night going right into Simchas Torah. I brought my children to shul with their flags, anticipating the highest high of the year, when we celebrate completing the Torah. My father davened mincha, followed by the rav’s shiur which was about our renewing our love for Torah constantly; even if we just completed it, there are always more levels to attain. Right after the shiur ended, my father collapsed right into my eldest son’s arms. Within seconds, Hatzolah was there. The entire shul started saying tehillim for him.

Everything after that become such a blur: my mother, my husband, and my sister went to the hospital. I went back to my sister’s home with the kids. I didn’t stop saying tehillim. I divided the chapters among everyone so we could complete the entire sefer. I didn’t give up hope. I kept telling Hashem to change the decree.

When my husband came back, I saw it was bad from the look in his eyes. I ran away from him, I didn’t want to hear him say the words. Blindly, aimlessly, I ran right into the sukkah in my sister’s backyard. I cried so hard. All our lives we learn about the sukkah being a symbol of faith in Hashem. We shake the lulav in all direction to show Hashem is everywhere, in the lows and in the highs. In my pain, I realized that I was surrounded by Hashem’s shade. I felt Hashem sending me a message, telling me not to worry, that everything happens for a reason. There, in the sukkah, I made the brachah dayan emes.

After hearing words of Torah on earth, my beautiful father went to learn Torah in the Upper World. The tefillin he so longingly wanted to give his grandson would be his own pair of tefillin.

At first, I didn’t understand how it would be possible for the shul to have hakafos in the place where my father died. But then I realized how beautiful it really was. My father was always filled with simchas hachaim, always cheering people up. He was the candy man in shul. No other day would be more appropriate for his soul to return to his Maker than Simchas Torah.

We are always so happy when a new neshamah comes down to this world and sad when it leaves when, really, it should be the opposite. My father’s neshamah was so holy–he was born on Pesach night and left on Simchas Torah. Such a wonderful neshamah deserved to be danced all the way back home. We danced for him, as his mitzvos danced for him in the Next World.

The next morning, my children danced for the Torah that my father loved. They were embraced by the whole community.

I’m so happy I had this time with my father. Even while his death has been so shocking and the pain is so raw, I pray that Mashiach will come soon. I keep getting messages from Hashem that my father is in a good place. These past weeks, the media has been talking about the rescue of the miners in Chile. Such a miracle, where people arose from underground, alive, after many days and weeks, could only parallel the real techiyas hameisim. I daven that the real techiyas hameisim be soon and that we may all be united with our loved ones again. In the meantime, I will think of my father and everything he taught me. I miss you, Daddy. Thank you for touching so many people’s lives.

May my father, Yehuda Alter ben Zion, have an aliyas neshamah.

The Blessing In The Candles

Wednesday, November 24th, 2010

It was erev Simchas Torah and I had just lit my Yom Tov candles. I was rushing to go to hakafos (dancing with the Torah) at my local shul.

Suddenly, there was a loud knock. Opening the door, I found a young friend, his wife, and several children waiting to be invited in. As they entered, I realized that there was only one dim light in the house emanating from a small lamp in the kitchen. Conditions were certainly not optimum for company. Moreover, I did not want to be late for shul.

I mumbled embarrassedly that I was on the way out, and they understood and turned to leave. That is, all except their oldest daughter, an adorable 18-year-old tzadeikes. She stood still, staring pensively at the candles burning brightly in the dining room.

She and I stood together for a few moments, staring quietly at the flickering flames. Then, she turned to leave and softly said, “Your candles are so beautiful.”

As she descended the front steps, she met her friend on her way to shul. That shul was in the opposite direction of the shul her family was heading towards. The friend convinced her to join her.

At the friend’s shul, a young man noticed the young woman and inquired about her. He discovered that their families knew each other from the Yeshiva world.

This lovely couple announced their engagement on Rosh Chodesh Cheshvan!

The candles we light on Shabbos, Yom Tov and Chanukah shed a miraculous light into a world of chaos, confusion and darkness. The glow of these candles impacts every life.

I am looking forward to this wedding with special excitement because there is something miraculous about this couple’s meeting. If this young lady had left my house immediately with her family and had not stopped to gaze at the holy candles, she would not have met the friend who guided her to her chassan.

Of course Hashem orchestrated the meeting. May He always guide us and light our paths with success, happiness, good health, and parnassa, as we continue to light our candles of blessings.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/judaism/jewish-columns/lessons-in-emunah/the-blessing-in-the-candles/2010/11/24/

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