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Rabbi Doniel Staum - Parshas Bereishis 5777 "Hold On"
by Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

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Rabbi Emanuel Feldman relates the story about a Jewish adolescent who was raised by his irreligious parents in the assimilated life of the city. One summer his parents sent him to live with his Orthodox grandparents in the suburbs. Throughout the summer his Bubby and Zaydei instilled within him an appreciation for the beauty of a Torah life. He kept Shabbos, ate only Kosher, prayed three times a day, and put on tefillin each morning. Then, on the final day of the summer vacation his parents arrived to bring him back 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!”

Rabbi Sholom Shwadron zt’l, the great Maggid of Yerushalayim, remarked that the wily Satan is aware that during the days of awe he will not be wholly successful in deterring Klal Yisroel from their passionate confession and remorseful repentance. So he makes a nonverbalized pact with every one of us: “Elul and Tishrei are yours; but as soon as Cheshvan comes, you’re mine!” He bides his time until the holidays have ended, and life resumes its normal course. Then he seeks to thwart all our attempts to improve by resorting us to the way things were before.

So how do we combat this overwhelming evil inclination that ‘attacks’ us as soon as the holidays are over and the cold chill of winter sends a shiver down our spine?

Someone once met Rabbi Mendel Kaplan zt’l after Yom Tov and cordially asked him how his Yom Tov was. Rav Mendel shrugged, “I don’t know.” He then smiled and told the puzzled questioner, “Come back to me in a few months and ask me then how my Yom Tov was.

Yomim Tovim are meant to be times of spiritual service and soulful elevation, when a Jew counts his blessings and seeks a closer connection with G-d.

Every Yom Tov has its own unique blessing and each fills our spiritual chalice with unique spiritual blessing to help us endure the vicissitudes and challenges of the year. This is the meaning of the prayer we recite during Yom Tov, “ והשיאנו ה' אלקינו את ברכת מועדיך- Hashem our G-d may You load us up with the blessing of Your holidays.” Rav Yitzchok Hutner zt’l would quip that one who says ’Yom Tov is over’ has missed the point of Yom Tov. It is not just an event, but rather an experience.

This is the message Rabbi Mendel was conveying. If in a few months he still felt the impression of the Yom Tov, only then he can know that it was ‘a good Yom Tov’.

After eating the fruit from the Eitz Hada’as (Tree of Knowledge), the Torah relates that Adam become cognizant of the fact that he was unclothed. Hashem then called out to him with the word - “Ayeka- Where are you?”[1]

The Maharal explains that when the pasuk says that Adam realized he was unclothed it does not mean physically, but spiritually. He had one commandment to fulfill, and he was now bereft of that mitzvah. When Hashem called out to him, “Ayeka,” He was lamenting Adam’s pitfall from pristine purity to a state of sin.

Meiam Loez notes that it was this same complaint that G-d made to Klal Yisroel some three and a half thousand years later at the time of the destruction of the first Bais Hamikdash. Yirmiyahu Hanavi 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 allowed yourself to fall 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. Tosafos explains that his confusion is the result of seeing the overwhelming zeal and burning passion of Klal Yisroel to perform these mitzvos. His greatest prosecution is to claim that all of our actions are only out of habit and rote. So when he sees our excitement in performing the mitzvos he becomes stymied. However, Satan is no novice. Instead he waits patiently until the “Holiday Season” is over, and then he makes his move.

Perhaps that 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.[2] It is perplexing that the month be given such a harsh title, perhaps it should be called, “Stam Cheshvan - the plain Cheshvan”. Why bitter?

The Ba’alei Mussar explain that there is no such thing as ‘spiritual stagnancy’.[3] No one remains on the same spiritual level for any period of time. Either one is rowing or he is slipping.

The Jewish people learn not only from its triumphs, but also from its downfalls and defeats. Thus, even the days marked as ‘tragic’ days on the Jewish calendar carry lessons, and 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. Rosh Hashana/Yom Kippur are days of awe, while Succos is a holiday of blissful joy, etc. Even tragic holidays and the “minor holidays” contain endemic lessons: Asarah B’teves is the darkest time of the year when the enemy laid siege around Jerusalem, symbolizing the siege around our souls in exile. On Tu B’shvat the sap begins climbing the trees, representing hope and revival. The list continues throughout every month of the year.

The month of Cheshvan however, lacks this mode of unique and specific growth. Because Cheshvan does not have this modality for growth it is deemed as a month of bitterness.[4] When there is such holiness and greatness gained during the previous months and now there is a void, there is inevitably ‘bitterness’.

So this is our challenge. As we bless and welcome the month of Cheshvan, we also seek to sweeten the bitterness of the month, by growing with our every day, despite not having any special holidays. Cheshvan affords us an opportunity to focus more on the sanctity and incredible gift of Shabbos each week. As we commence the reading of the Torah we also grow with the beautiful lessons of our holy Avos, and remind ourselves how to live a life of Kiddush Hashem even amid challenges.

May we keep the flame of Tishrei and all of its holidays with us, to warm us throughout the winter, and throughout the year.

Ayeka- Where are you?”

“Load us up with the blessing of Your holidays”

Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW

Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead

Rebbe/Guidance Counselor – ASHAR

Principal – Ohr Naftoli- New Windsor

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[1] Bereishis 3:9

[2] Sefer HaToda’ah. See there where he adds a second explanation beased on the fact that the word Mar also means a raindrop (See Yeshaya 40:15). The month is called MarCheshvan because it is when the rainy season begins.

[3] In the words of Rav Hutner (Purim 1976) “There is no Switzerland in the neshama; no neutrality!”

[4] Although the month of Elul may not have a specific holiday, the whole month carries with it a special spiritual service that is vital to the yearly cycle of a Jew.

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