Thursday, October 11, 2012


Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW
Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead
Social Worker, Yeshiva Bais Hachinuch/Ashar


          Rabbi Emanuel Feldman relates the story about Brad, a Jewish teenager raised by irreligious parents in the city. One summer his parents sent him off to be with his Orthodox grandparents in the countryside. Throughout the summer his Bubby and Zayde instilled within him an appreciation for the beauty of a Torah life. He kept Shabbos, ate Kosher, prayed three times a day, and put on tefillin each morning. On the final day of his summer vacation Brad’s parents arrived to bring him home. With tears in his eyes he placed his hand on the mezuzah, kissed it, and called out, “Goodbye G-d! I’ll see you next year!”
          The question is whether this pitiful anecdote is more familiar than we would like to believe. As the holidays of awe and repentance, followed by joy and celebration, come to an end and life resumes its routine, do we too proverbially ‘place a hand on the mezuzah’ and subconsciously think, “Goodbye G-d! See you next Elul”?
          In a similar vein, Rabbi Sholom Shwadron zt’l[2] remarked that the Satan is well aware that during the days of awe he will not be successful in deterring Klal Yisroel from repentance and spiritual passion. So he bides his time. He thinks to himself: “Elul and Tishrei are yours; but as soon as Cheshvan comes, you’re mine!”
So how do we combat his wily plot? How can we hold on to all we have worked so arduously to achieve during the months of Elul and Tishrei?

Someone once met Rabbi Mendel Kaplan zt’l after Yom Tov and cordially asked him how his Yom Tov was. Rav Mendel simply shrugged, “I don’t know.” To the man’s perplexed look Reb Mendel explained, “Come back to me in six months. Then I’ll know how my Yom Tov was!”
Our Yomim Tovim are not mere holidays and vacations. Rather they are unique times of spiritual service and internal meditation, when a Jew reflects upon the greatness of his Creator and yearns to become closer to Him.
Every Yom Tov has its own unique blessing infusing us with spiritual vitality to endure the challenges of the year. This is the meaning of the prayer we say on Yom Tov, “והשיאנו ה' אלקינו את ברכת מועדיך - Hashem our G-d may You elevate us to ‘carry’ the blessing of your holidays.” We pray that when the Yom Tov physically exits it leaves behind an indelible imprint on our souls. In a similar vein, Rav Yitzchok Hutner zt’l would quip that one who says ’Yom Tov is over’ has missed the point of Yom Tov.
This is the message Rabbi Mendel was conveying, “Ask me at the end of the year how much the Yom Tov moved me and how much of its blessing I was able to retain for that is the only barometer to know how Yom Tov was.”

 It must be noted however, that this is not a novel concept. In fact, it goes back to the genesis of time for Adam Harishon himself was culpable of this error. After eating from the Tree of Knowledge, the verse relates that Adam become cognizant of the fact that he was unclothed. At that point G-d called out to him, (3:9) “Ayeka- Where are you?”
 The Maharal explains that when the verse states that Adam realized he was unclothed it does not mean physically but spiritually. He had one commandment to fulfill, i.e. not to eat from the fruit of that tree, and he was now bereft of that mitzvah. When G-d called out to him, “Ayeka,” he was lamenting Adam’s pitfall, “Adam, what has happened to you? You were in a state of pristine purity. You stood before me in unblemished holiness. But now you have sullied yourself with sin. How could you have allowed this to happen to you?”
Yalkut Me’am Loez notes that it was this same complaint that G-d had to Klal Yisroel some three and a half thousand years later at the time of the destruction of the first Bais Hamikdash. The prophet Yirmiyahu cried out “Eicha”. The word ‘Eicha’ is composed of the same Hebrew letters as ‘Ayeka’. In essence, G-d’s complaint to Klal Yisroel was the same as His complaint to Adam, “My children, where are you? How could you have fallen into such a sad and denigrated state?”

Chazal say that the Satan becomes ‘confused’ through the blowing of the shofar and the shaking of the lulav. Satan’s greatest prosecution of Klal Yisroel is that that their service to G-d is without feeling or emotion, but only out of rote and habit. But when he witnesses the overwhelming zeal and burning passion of Klal Yisroel to perform these mitzvos he becomes befuddled and his prosecution is negated. But the Satan is a keen and resilient warrior, and he waits…

Perhaps this is why the month immediately following Tishrei is known as ‘MarCheshvan- Bitter Cheshvan”. Being that the month of Cheshvan possesses no holidays or ‘marked times’ it is deemed a ‘bitter’ month. It is perplexing that the month be given such a harsh title. Perhaps it should more appropriately be called, “Stam Cheshvan- Plain Cheshvan”. Why is it a bitter month?
The Ba’alei Mussar[3] explain that there is no such thing as ‘spiritual stagnancy’. No one remains on the same spiritual level for any period of time. The rule is that if one is not growing, he is inevitably slipping. Klal Yisroel has a unique ability to - not only learn from its triumphs and successes - but also to learn from its downfalls and defeats. Thus, even the days marked as ‘tragic’ days on the Jewish calendar carry special lessons and a specific pathway for growth.
Throughout the year a Jew learns to channel every one of his emotions in a spiritual way. Adar/Purim is a month of laughter while Tisha B’av is a time of hopeful tears. On Rosh Hashana/Yom Kippur awe and fear are appropriate while on Succos we learn the art of joy that ultimately manifests itself with the dancing of Simchas Torah. Asarah B’teves is the darkest time of the year when the enemy laid siege around the walls of Jerusalem, reminding us of our need to strengthen our personal fortifications around the proverbial Jerusalem in our hearts. On Tu B’shvat the sap begins climbing the trees representing hope and revival. And so it continues with every month of the year.
The month of Cheshvan however, lacks this mode of unique and specific growth[4]. Because Cheshvan does not have this modality for growth it is deemed as a month of bitterness. When there is such holiness and greatness gained during the previous months that void and now this bitter indeed.  

However, that bitterness can be sweetened. If the month of Cheshvan is a month of internalizing all that we have gained then the month of Tishrei and all of its holidays will not have ended. The holiday spirit will continue to permeate our Torah learning and mitzvah observance. We will not have to answer the painful question of ‘Ayeka’ because we will continue to ascend the ladder of spiritual greatness.
We begin the Torah anew with a renewed sense of dedication and commitment with the taste of Yom Tov still fresh and lingering in our hearts.

[1] This Stam Torah was originally written in 5764 with gratitude in honor of my dear in-laws, who had honored me with ‘Chosson Torah’ on Simchas Torah.
[2] The great Maggid of Yerushalayim
[3] Master Ethicists
[4] The holiness of Shabbos is not unique to Cheshvan as Shabbos is found in every month. Also, Shabbos is not a unique and special mode of growth endemic to one time period of the year. Rather Shabbos is the lifeline and source of holiness for every moment of a Jew’s life.


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