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August 31, 2015 / 16 Elul, 5775
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘Simchat Torah’

A ‘New Year’ Resolution

Tuesday, September 28th, 2010

The week-long holiday period that includes Sukkot, Chol Hamoed, Shmini Atzeret and Simchat Torah is almost over, as are all the attendant festivities, celebrations, family gatherings and trips, and of course, all that over-eating and indulging in food and drink. Most of us will happily (or maybe not so happily) go back to being absorbed by our day-to-day routines; for the great majority, life will return to “normal.”

For most of us, the tormenting hunger and thirst – and the heightened and sobering awareness of our fragility, vulnerability and mortality that we experienced on Yom Kippur – are receding memories.

Unfortunately, so too is the fierce resolve that infused our frenetic davening – that we would change for the better; that we would re-examine, shake up and refine the status quo of our attitudes and actions. That given another chance, we would become better Jews and worthier human beings and be deserving of Hashem’s forgiveness and mercy and an inscription in the Book of Life.

Sadly – even predictably – our heart-felt resolutions to improve ourselves in a manner pleasing to God and our passionate internal promise to elevate ourselves physically or spiritually as ovdei Hashem tend to fall by the wayside after a few days or weeks. In this respect we are not so unlike our non-Jewish neighbors, who every January 1 vow that they will change for the better; that they will, for example, stop smoking or start exercising, but find that it is easier to utter this sentiment than to actualize it.

Perhaps we would be more successful in keeping the “promise to upgrade” we so earnestly took upon ourselves (usually while we worriedly immersed ourselves in the U’Netana Tokef prayer) if we focus on a specific takana – correction – instead of just enthusiastically vowing to do teshuvah – but with no direction.

“Oi, Oi, we have to do teshuvah”- the singular refrain one usually hears when there has been heart-wrenching tragedy in the community – has become as “generic” a sentiment as the one we hear on an almost daily basis – “Have a nice day.” That expression is well-meaning – but it has no substance to it. “Nice” doesn’t convey anything concrete – as would for example, the statement, “Hope your train is on time,” or “May your work day be productive.”

Neither does the phrase “doing teshuvah.”

The idea, then, is to actually zero in on an area of your spiritual life where you know you are deficient or lacking, and try to improve it. For some, it can be as simple as slowing down during davening and focusing on what you are saying; or reading the words in a way that you actually understand what you are reading – even if it means praying from a siddur that has English on the facing page.

Resolving to do an act of kindness on a daily basis – such as picking up the phone and brainstorming with a friend to set up single acquaintances or buying a less expensive version of something you want – like a sheitel or outfit and diverting the money saved to tzedakah – is a very doable personal tikkun.

On a personal level, I know that I need to work on being more positive, as opposed to being just “parve” when dealing with people, friend or stranger alike. A classic example of being “parve” is not wishing a good Shabbat to a passerby who obviously is not going to say it to me. I tend to jump to the unsubstantiated conclusion that this person is a snob; that based on a quick glance, I have been assessed as being someone who isn’t “chashuv” enough to warrant a greeting. And so I ignore them as well. In my mind, what comes around goes around. If I do not exist, then you don’t either.

This Yom Kippur however, after reading of the many calamities and misfortunes that can be visited on every individual, as well as the klal, I realized that I was guilty of also “assessing someone based on a quick glance,” and making a hasty judgment. Perhaps the person who acts as if I am invisible is herself feeling invisible – perhaps she feels unworthy of being greeted; perhaps her self-confidence and her ability to be friendly has been whittled away by the heavy burdens her life has accumulated. Perhaps she is so preoccupied with something huge going on in her life – a simcha or sadly a misfortune – that she looks at me but does not see me.

And then again, perhaps she is a snob.

But that is her problem – and I should not let negativity make me parve. Therefore, I hope to fight my own inclination to look away, and instead offer a “hello/gut Shabbos” greeting.

That will be a gift to her – and to whomever else I encounter who is feeling negative. A positive remark is like a sip of water when someone is parched. It rejuvenates. Think of how you felt when the fast ended and you drank a cup of cold water or juice. As those first few drops flowed down your throat, you felt the cold wetness suffusing your entire body and you immediately felt revived.

A compliment, a comment of praise – even a simple hello – permeates the recipient’s soul, flooding it with a sense of well-being or even hope. And the giver feels elevated as well. A kind word is mutually uplifting.

Have a good Shabbos!

A Night Of Joy

Tuesday, May 18th, 2010

Judaism is meticulous about the manner in which it celebrates Festivals.

We eat matzah on Pesach because it recalls the suddenness of the Exodus that happened so quickly there was no time for the dough to rise. On Sukkot, we leave our homes and establish residence in a sukkah to remember, “In sukkot did I house the children of Israel when I took them out of Egypt.”

A question can be raised with regard to Simchat Torah – the holiday of rejoicing with the Torah. The purpose of the day is to give expression to the profound feelings of joy in the study and observance of Torah. The timing of this holiday, however, seems strange. We observe it on Shemini Atzeret, the eighth day of Sukkot.

It would seem that Simchat Torah ought to be connected to Shavuot; the theme of this holiday, after all, is the giving of the Torah. The purpose of the Exodus was to fashion a unique nation that would govern its private and public affairs according to the commandments and philosophy of the Torah. Our love of Torah is so great that we anticipate the day of Revelation by counting the forty-nine days from Pesach to Shavuot. Why, then, don’t we sing and dance and rejoice with the Torah on Shavuot?

Judaism insists on honesty and frowns on displays of shallow emotionalism. How often do we feel so happy we just want to burst out in song and dance? We need something personal and compelling, like a major simcha, to arouse powerful feelings of joy.

Is it reasonable to expect us to get so excited over a book containing commandments, prohibitions and exhortations that we want to sing and dance with it for hours and hours? Indeed it is – but these emotions must be cultivated over a long period of time.

The goal of Torah observance is not mere obedience but joyful exuberance with the lifestyle of kedushah (holiness). The Rambam says (Laws of Lulav 8:18), “The rejoicing one experiences in the performance of mitzvot and love of God who commanded them is a great service. Whoever holds himself back from this simcha is fit to be punished as the Torah says, “Because they failed to serve Hashem with joy and a good heart .”

The joy of which the Rambam speaks does not come quickly or easily. It requires effort, devotion and the ability to withdraw from superficial pleasures. You must put your heart and soul into the study of Torah in order to appreciate its great beauty and fall in love with it.

Shavuot marks the beginning of our relationship with Torah. This is the time when our ancestors demonstrated their faithfulness by saying, “We will do and we will listen.” We knew Torah is the greatest treasure. But it does not magically transform us. It takes a great deal of dedicated effort to achieve the emotional joy and satisfaction the Torah promises.

On Shavuot we renew that commitment. Many observe the beautiful custom of learning through the night to demonstrate their willingness to part with the pleasure of sleep in order to gain more Torah knowledge.

Let’s consider the deeper significance of this practice. The mitzvah of Talmud Torah is not bound by time or place. We read in the Shema, “And you shall teach them to your children and discuss them when you sit in your house and when you travel on the road, when you lie down and when you arise.” Although there is never a time when one is exempt from study, the night assumes a special significance in the performance of this mitzvah.

The Rambam says (Hilchot Talmud Torah 3:13): “Even though it is a mitzvah to learn by day and by night a person only learns the bulk of his wisdom by night. Therefore, one who seeks to merit the Crown of Torah should guard all his nights and not waste any one of them with sleep, eating and drinking, talking and the like, but only with the study of Torah and matters of wisdom.”

But if study is properly done, what difference does it make when it takes place? I would suggest an explanation for this tantalizing Rambam. The daytime hours are universally regarded as the time for “work.” One naturally feels a responsibility to be engaged in some gainful employment during the day. Night, however, is the time people associate with self-gratification. You’ve put in a long day and now it’s time to unwind and have fun.

Bringing Up The Next Generation To Care

Wednesday, November 15th, 2006

Communication is both verbal and nonverbal. We tell our children how to behave. We talk to them about midos (good character) and try to inspire them with stories of everyday heroes. We hope inspiration to act appropriately will come from examples of the behavior of our gedolim, as we surround our house with their pictures and fill our bookshelves with their teachings. All of this does have a profound impact on our children. But it is very important to remember whose example will influence our children more than any other and how that influence works.


Nonverbal communication (what we do instead of what we say) seems to have a much more powerful influence on those around us than verbal communication. This is not to negate anything mentioned above. Our children need many influences, verbal and nonverbal, from many sources. But it is vital to remember that a parent is perhaps the biggest influence in a child’s life at any age, and, parents’ behavior carries tremendous power. What they see us do influences them to a much greater degree than what we say.


This poem arrived on my computer from a friend. Once again, it was by that famous author, “Anonymous” whose works are so often sent from one computer to another. It so reflected what I feel, that I framed it and have it hanging in my kitchen and in my children’s homes.


When You Thought I Wasn’t Looking


     When you thought I wasn’t looking, I saw my first painting on the refrigerator and I wanted to paint another one.


     When you thought I wasn’t looking, I saw you feed a stray cat and I thought it was good to be kind.


     When you thought I wasn’t looking I saw you make my favorite cake, just for me, and I knew that little things are special things.


     When you thought I wasn’t looking I heard you say a prayer and I believed in a G-d I could always talk to.


     When you thought I wasn’t looking I felt you kiss me goodnight and I felt loved.


     When you thought I wasn’t looking I saw a tear come to your eyes and I learned that sometimes things hurt, but it’s alright to cry.


     When you thought I wasn’t looking I saw that you cared and I wanted to be everything that I wanted to be.


     When you thought I wasn’t looking, I looked…and I wanted to say thanks for all the things I saw when you thought I wasn’t looking.


     I’d like to change the poem to perhaps make some points about what, unfortunately, is common when raising children in our communities and what they are teaching our children.


Things That Would Horrify Us, If We Only Realized Their Effect


     When you thought I wasn’t looking, I saw you keep the change that was too much instead of returning it and I knew it was all right to keep what wasn’t yours.


     When you thought I wasn’t looking I heard you tell the man asking for tzedakah that you had no money, and I knew it was all right to lie and not give charity.


     When you thought I wasn’t looking I saw you ask the carpenter what price it would be if you paid him cash, and I knew it was all right to cheat the government.


     When you thought I wasn’t looking I saw you buy a TV at the store so we could see the World Series and then return it right after and I knew it was all right to “rent at Walmart.”


     When you thought I wasn’t looking I saw you transfer the macaroni with the hechsher we didn’t use into a package with the hechsher Daddy likes, and I knew it was all right to fool around with kashrus and lie to your spouse.


     When you thought I wasn’t looking I heard you talking badly about our neighbor and I knew it was all right to speak lashon harah and gossip.


     When you thought I wasn’t looking I saw you pass by the blind man at the corner without offering to help and I knew that it was all right to ignore those that need us.


     When you thought I wasn’t looking I saw you ignore the needs of our sick neighbor and I knew bikur cholim (helping the sick) wasn’t important.


     When you thought I wasn’t looking I saw you didn’t dance with Yanky, my friend whose father was in a wheelchair and couldn’t dance with him, on Simchat Torah and I knew not to be sensitive to another’s needs.


     When you thought I wasn’t looking I saw you not help Bubby and Zaidy on Yom Tov when we visited and I knew how to treat you when you get old.


     When you thought I wasn’t looking I saw our neighbor sitting alone every Shabbos and Yom Tov and I knew that inviting guests was only for whom we like and not who needed the invitation.


     We teach mostly by example. Our young children copy everything from how we walk, sigh and even cough, to how we speak to another (words, tone and all). If we want to raise children who care, we must show them by our example of caring for others to teach how it is done. Otherwise it’s just “do as I say and not how I do”. In that case, it may never get done.


You can contact me at annnovick@hotmail.com or by snail mail c/o the Jewish Press.

As Sweet As Candy

Wednesday, October 11th, 2006

At this time of year, honey, and the sweetness it represents, plays a major role in our celebrations. Beginning with the solemn days of Rosh Hashanah − when we eat honey and other sweet foods, asking for a sweet year − throughout the holiday of Sukkot, the “holiday of joy,” culminating with Simchat Torah, when we dance with rapturous abandon, we have been living in a spiritually-charged atmosphere.


In today’s world, in particular, sweetness and joy, are especially essential in the education of our children. The best learning opportunities occur when our children experience Yiddishkeit as something sweet and pleasurable. As we celebrate Sukkot, the holiday of joy, let us resolve to try to make this sweet happiness permeate our, and our children’s entire year.




Many shuls have a “candy man.” He’s usually the beloved and jolly man sitting in the back of the synagogue, who distributes lollypops and other sugar-laden treats to the well-behaved children. He’s easy to spot, with a trail of children in all shapes and sizes heading resolutely in his direction. Their eyes are glazed with anticipation on their way to greet him; pockets bulging and huge smiles plastered on their faces after their encounter.


You can well imagine that the candy man is one of the most popular members of the shul. He’s definitely the unanimous favorite of all the little, pint-sized people (not to mention the local dentists!).


Our shul also has a candy man. But until a relative recently visited from out-of-town and remarked on how unique our particular candy man was, I had never realized this.


Our candy man also gives out candies, lollipops, chocolate bars and an assortment of sweet, syrupy treats. Our candy man also has a trail of youngsters purposefully heading to him. My two-year-old enthusiastically walks the long trek from our home to our shul with the promise of these special confections well-imprinted in her mind.


But instead of our candy man sitting in the back of our shul, he sits on a special, elevated dais right up front.


My younger children especially love to stretch out their chubby, little hands to him and feel a very special bond of affinity to our candy man.


That’s probably because he is my father and their beloved Zaidy. You see, our candy man is not just a candy man. He is the community’s revered and respected, wise and knowledgeable, elderly rabbi and authority.


Some might see it as a sign of disrespect for the senior rabbi to be distributing candies to little children. They might argue that it is a slight to his honor and to the respect due the sanctuary of a shul to have young children parading up to his dais throughout the services.


But I see it as the ultimate sign of respect. I see it as respectful toward the vast knowledge of Torah that the rabbi represents and to his authority in deciding communal legal issues.

You see, when our children, from their youngest age onwards, can look to Torah and those authoritative figures who represent it, as something sweet, positive, precious and appealing, we have instilled within them a lifelong value that could never be communicated in classrooms through text-book lessons.


If our children’s first encounter with the respected Jewish figures of their lives is one associated with pleasantness; if from their positions at the dais, these figures can relate to our youngsters’ needs and desires, as well as increase their inborn joy of life, we have successfully educated our children by making an indelible impression on their little hearts. Our child’s young mind will forever associate Torah study with the sweetness of honey.


We need to palpably show our children that Judaism is something sweet, lovable and heartwarming. It is something worth fighting for. It is something worth defending against the trends and value systems of the majority. And it is something worth sacrificing for its ideals. This is true education.


In this generation of disillusionment, life’s journeys can be challenging enough. Let us provide our youngsters, from their earliest years onwards, with a taste of the sweetness of Judaism to fortify them on their future journeys. Within their little hearts, let the sweetness of this faith be small places of refuge, accompanying them wherever their path in life may take them.


Let our children forever savor the enticing and succulent sweetness of their early experiences – and the sweet taste of the candy, given with a smile from the hands of the candy man in the shul sanctuary.


Chana Weisberg is the author of several books, including the best-selling Divine Whispers – Stories that Speak to the Heart and Soul and the soon-to-be released book, Tending the Garden: The Role of the Jewish Woman, Past, Present and Future. She is a columnist for www.chabad.org and she lectures worldwide on a wide array of issues. She can be reached at weisberg@sympatico.ca

Trip To Ukraine And Poland

Wednesday, September 27th, 2006

     As of Tzom Gedalia, Sept. 25, I will be on a trip to Ukraine and Poland. The trip to Kiev in Ukraine will enable me to participate in the commemoration of the 65th anniversary of the massacre of 37,000 Jews at Babi Yar. The commemoration will be attended by political leaders from all over Europe, including Vladimir Putin from Russia and Victor Yuchenko of Ukraine.

      I will also take advantage of the trip to explore the Jewish community of Kiev. Rabbi Azman of Kiev has invited me to spend Yom Kippur with him and promised to give me access to everything I need to report on the community at large.

      After Yom Kippur I will travel by train to Warsaw, Poland, for the Sukkot holiday, returning to the U.S. after Simchat Torah.

      During my stay in Poland I will be able to further my research and interview many people. Many changes have taken place in Poland since my last visit. There is now an emissary from the Lubavitch movement, as well as a chief rabbi in Galicia. This year also saw four new rabbis starting to work throughout Poland, when only a few short years ago Rabbi Schudrich was alone in teaching and leading the sparse community.

      The Lauder Foundation had in years past always imported much of its staff from the U.S., but now all the positions in the Lauder Foundation are filled by local Polish Jewish. This is a testament to the educational efforts of Rabbi Schudrich.

      During Chol Hamoed I will be taking part in the reunion of Jews from the town of Czestachowa. Before the Shoah there was a thriving community in Czestachowa, and today there are almost no Jews left. During Chol Hamoed,Jews who remember what Jewish life was like before the Shoah will return to the town of their youth to show their children what they remember. For the first time in more then 60 years a sukkah will be built in Czestachowa and decorated by children around the world.

      Simchat Torah is a holiday when even people who are only marginally Jewish come to the synagogue. I will be spending the holiday with the community and will return to report on the conditions in Poland.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/columns/trip-to-ukraine-and-poland/2006/09/27/

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