Tuesday, October 18, 2011

זמן שמחתנו The Time of our Joy

Here are some thoughts I shared with Shechter Westchester students about todays events:

Gilad Shalit….Gilad Ben Aviva Shalit.

For too long this simple name has been in the prayers of Jews throughout the world, as we have waited and wondered about this young man’s future. When will Gilad come home? When will he be free? When will he have the chance to hug his parents, to see his friends, to live his life?

Last Tuesday, when news broke that Gilad was finally on his way home, my friends and I immediately jumped on Egged bus 71; we went down Derekh Hevron, across Gan Ha’pa’amon, and up Keren Hayesod. As the bus approached the Fuchsberg center, we quickly jumped off and ran down the street to the tent that Gilad’s family had set up. We expected that this tent—which for 5 years had been a solemn symbol of our yearning for his return—would have transformed into a party, a yom ha’atzmaut take-2.

Instead, we found quiet, scared parents gathered all around. While there was definitely a real excitement, there was also a genuine fear—tekhef tireh—we’ll believe it when it actually happens.

This morning, at about 8 am, I stood waiting for that same Egged bus. Except this time, the sign that read “Mikhakim lecha babayit (we’re waiting for you at home)” was replaced by one declaring “Kamah tov she batah habaitah (how good it is that you’ve come home).” As we got on the bus the radio was blasting, and everyone was crammed towards the front trying to listen to Gilad’s first interview. “Beynenu chozer, beynenu chozer (our son is returning, our son is returning) an old lady cries.

As I get off the bus, and return to that same tent, the trepidation has completely disappeared, and has been replaced with a contagious jubilation. Beynenu chozer, our son has come home.

Still, there are genuine fears. 1,027 freed prisoners is a large price to pay. It hurts the families of those killed by these very individuals. It incites a great fear that they may return to their terrorist tendencies. Will these terrorists continue to kill? What will come next? Has this given incentive to Hamas to keep stealing our soldiers? The fear is real, justified, and pervasive. But, it is also on hold.

For now, all fear is momentarily shelved away, as we come together to declare “am Yisrael chai.” Today Israel is not worried about consequences or potential fallout. Today, Israel can stand proud. It really is a miracle, and I am humbled to have been given the chance to experience it.

So, as I left the tent, on my way to Ben Yehudah street for some lunch, a man, a stranger, an average Israeli, turned to me and said in a deep accent, “be’emet, today, we can say ve’samachta be’chagecha.” Let us celebrate zman simchateynu (the time of our joy), and continue to greet everyone with a moadim lesimcha (time for joy). Today, in this country, in our country, you can see and feel the meaning of Jewish pride.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Two Sounds in One Ear

וברכה שלום ,

Throughout my year in Israel, I will use this blog to share what I study in the classroom, and to describe what I observe on the streets; I will discuss not only the Torah that I learn, but also the Torah that I live. I hope that in sharing some moments in my life when I am able to appreciate the profoundly nuanced convergence of these two elements, we may all recognize a new holiness in our lives. While for now I will share some humble thoughts regarding the holiday season, eventually, beezrat hashem, I will regularly share my thoughts on the weekly parsha:

When I came home from class the other day, I, intending to begin writing this post, opened up all the essentials (chumash, siddur, mahzor, laptop and Sports Illustrated). Within moments, I was interrupted by the all too recognizable sound of a siren outside my kitchen window. As I jumped to my feet to see what was going on, I quickly realized that this siren, fortunately, was not one of alarm, nor one of regret; rather, this siren was one of joy and jubilation. It was sounded to alert the locals of a new tenant—a Sefer Torah was moving to town. The Sephardic shul up the street from my apartment was having a Hachnasat Torah (welcoming of a new Torah). My initial fears instantly dissolved, and in their place emerged an unparalleled bliss. Instinctively, I ran down to the street and joined in on the singing and dancing. It was an amazingly beautiful moment that can only happen in the middle of Yerushalayim.

Still, as I reflect back on that memory, it strikes me how a single noise could denote such different situations; one similar sound can signify two eerily distinct realities.

As I stood and listened to the chazzan’s repetition of the Mussaf Amidah this past Rosh Hashannah, I was overcome by a similar emotion. As the Makri softly called out Tekia, the room was promptly filled with the distinct sound of a Shofar. I closed my eyes and listened closely, hoping to hear the message of this sacred horn. I stood still, hoping to feel the plea of this celebrated sound.

To me, and to many of the mephorshim (commentators) that I studied in my Siddur class, the Shofar seems to have a double meaning. It is, in part, our alarm clock—waking us up to repentance and atonement. Simultaneously, it is our megaphone, proudly proclaiming Hashem as our one G-d. It is, in essence, our siren; it provokes a fear and humility, while also instilling a sense of pride and triumph. What makes the Shofar so unique, however, is that while the siren on the street seems merely to signify one emotion at a time, the blast of the Shofar forces us to experience both moments at once.

On this day, we are taught to recognize הַיּוֹם יַעֲמִיד בַּמִּשְׁפָּט כָּל יְצוּרֵי עוֹלָמִים (Today, all the world’s creations stand in judgment), at the same time as we proclaim לָתֵת גְּדֻלָּה לְיוֹצֵר בְּרֵאשִׁית עָלֵינוּ (it is our duty to give greatness to the Author of creation). On Rosh Hashannah we must live both (the Day of Judgement)יום הדין and טוב יום (litt. A good day). The goal of the Shofar on Rosh Hashannah is for us to understand and appreciate both of these definitions of human existence.

This expectation seems quite difficult, if not impossible. How does a defendant, who is pleading his case and anxiously awaiting his judgement, simultaneously inaugurate and celebrate the king? The two seems to contradict.

This morning, while speaking about Teshuva one of my teacher offered a beautiful resolution. She cited a line from Nusach Sphard (Sephard high holiday davening): עין במר בוכה ולב שמח (an eye filled with painful tears, but a happy heart). We are taught that often our most important decisions are also the most painful. The two opposing emotions appear as one.

On Rosh Hashannah we train ourselves to hear two sounds in one ear. We allow two emotions to permeate our lonely heart. We expect two ideas to coexist in our single brain. While Rosh Hashannah has already come and gone, the 10 Days of Awe affords us an opportunity to continue this challenge. By manifesting our tfilot, by living the sound of the Shofar, and by walking in the steps of our heritage, we find that we truly can hear both of these cries. Through acts of תשובה, תפילה, וצדקה repentance, prayer, and charity (or as the Chabbad Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson z’l, taught: returning home (from sin), judging oneself, and giving simply because it is just) we hear both sounds. By bringing ourselves to action we can better ourselves, while increasing G-dliness in the world. I pray that this year we stay open to the possibility of all sirens and of all calls--and with open ears, and aspiring eyes, we can each make our dent in the world.

Gmar chatimah tovah!