Sunday, October 7, 2012

V'Zot HaBracha 5773

We read this parsha, the last in Torah, during the festival of Simchat Torah, which takes place this year in the Diaspora (outside Israel) on Monday evening, October 8 through Tuesday evening, October 9.  It contains the well known verse: “Torah was commanded to us by Moshe (Moses), an inheritance [morasha] to the Congregation of Yaakov (Jacob).”

Why does Torah use the word morasha when it could have used the related word yerusha?

Rabbi Yissocher Frand on notes a teaching from the Jerusalem Talmud (Bava Basra 8:2): everywhere we find the word morasha, it connotes a weakening of the idea of inheritance. 

Writes Rabbi Frand: “Morasha is a peculiar word. It is not easy to translate. It is significantly different than the word yerusha. The connotation is that one has less ownership in an object that has come to him as a morasha than he does in an item that comes to him as a yerusha.”

To make this point, the Jerusalem Talmud references a verse in Shemot (Exodus) 6:8: “And I will give it [the Land of Israel] to you as a morasha.” It notes that the people given this promise never made it to the Land of Israel. Nearly all of them died in the desert, so the Land of Israel never became theirs.

Writes Rav Frand: “Had the Torah promised Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel) to those who left Egypt as a yerusha, it would have belonged to them with no ifs ands or buts. However, the Torah used the weaker form, morasha, meaning that it will not necessarily be yours.”

“It only became theirs to the extent that they gave it to their children. This, in fact, is the major connotation of word morasha. The word implies ‘it is yours – sometimes literally and sometimes only to the extent that you pass it onto your children without ever having taken possession.’”  

“Torah is not a yerusha. Just because my father had the Torah does not mean that I will have the Torah. Sometimes a person only has the Torah as a morasha. This means that if a person sweats over Torah and makes an effort to understand Torah and puts in the hours required to master Torah, then Torah actually becomes his...Without the sweat and the hours, Torah will only be something that the person can potentially pass on to the next generation.”

As parents, we must toil in Torah and teach it to our children so they will have the potential to pass it on to our grandchildren.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Chol HaMoed Sukkot 5773

During the festival of Sukkot, we leave the comfort of home to reside in a sukkah, a temporary hut, shack or booth.  The sukkah reminds us that the Israelites dwelled in huts when they left Egypt: "You shall dwell in booths seven days… So that your generations may know that I made the children of Israel to dwell in booths, when I brought them out of the land of Egypt."

The Talmud (Sukkah 26a) explains that we dwell in the sukkah as if it were our home. We eat there, entertain there, read, study and may even sleep there. The Talmud (Sukkah 11b) also explains that this verse refers not only to physical huts, but also to the protective Clouds of Glory which G-d spread out over the Israelite encampment to protect the people during their travels.

Rabbi Akiva Tatz writes: “Dwelling in booths is at root an exercise in ego negation; it works to build faith in the spiritual Source and not in the material domain of man's control. The sukkah requires a roof that is very insubstantial -- it must be flimsy enough to allow the rain through; it is good if you can see the stars through it, too. 

One of the root meanings of the Hebrew word sukkah is ‘to see through.’ When we leave our permanent home, the proverbial ‘roof over our head,’ and move into a booth that has hardly a roof at all, we develop the ability to see through the material and perceive the higher. The tempting illusion is that our security derives from the material; the sukkah teaches that if there is security, it comes from elsewhere.

The kabbalistic texts call the sukkah the "shelter of faith." The festival of Sukkot occurs at the harvest season. The message is that when we bring the harvest into our home, just at the time when we may feel most independent, most self-secure, most independently wealthy, the Torah warns us to stay attached to the real Source of all that we have. On Sukkot, we read Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) – ‘All is vanity’; do not invest too much in this world.

Dwelling in booths serves to sensitize us to the higher world, to draw our gaze up metaphorically, through the sukkah's thin cover and not to the security of the concrete roofs of our permanent homes. This is a tangible experience of leaving the material and going out into a different kind of existence.”

Slovie Jungreis-Wolff writes: “Sitting in the sukkah under the stars, we realize that possessions do not bring peace. Life in this world is transient and we will never find serenity in that which is fleeting. We can understand that only living with purpose will bring us a sense of lasting peace.”

As we enter the sukkah, we offer a most beautiful prayer: "May it be Your will. my G-d and G-d of my forefathers, that You cause Your Presence to reside amongst us; that You spread over us the sukkah of Your peace."

Fellow parents, as you enter the sukkat shalom, the sukkah of peace, as you sit inside its walls, take a moment to look around. See the blessings that surround you and the joy that lies right before your eyes. This Sukkot, may you be surrounded by Clouds of Glory, walls of strength and know peace and serenity. Chag sameach! Have a joyous holiday.