Sukkos 5784


Perfectly imperfect[1]

ולקחתם לכם ביום הראשון פרי עץ הדר כפת תמרים וענף עץ-עבת וערבי-נחל ושמחתם לפני יקוק אלקיכם שבעת ימים: בסכת תשבו שבעת ימים כל-האזרח בישראל ישבו בסכת
You shall take for yourselves on the first day [of Sukkos] a beautiful fruit (an esrog), date-[palm] fronds, braided branches (hadassim), and willows of the brook. You shall rejoice before Hashem your G-d for seven days. You shall dwell in Sukkos for seven days; every citizen of Israel shall dwell in Sukkos[2]

It’s Sukkos time. The two main mitzvos associated with the Festival are the mitzvah to dwell in a Sukkah for seven days, and to take the four species, namely the lulav (palm frond), esrog (citron), aravos (willow), and hadasim (myrtle). What’s surprising is that, although these two mitzvos are adjacent to each other in the Torah, and they coincide on the same festival, they are polar opposites of each other. Jews are so careful about their four species that they are so perfect. Some spend hours making sure they are blemish free and as beautiful as can be.

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Aseres Yemei HaTeshuva 5784


Written for life vs. the good life[1]

זכרנו לחיים מלך חפץ בחיים וכתבנו בספר החיים למענך אלקים חיים: מי כמוך אב הרחמים זוכר יצוריו לחיים ברחמים
Remember us for life, the King Who desires life, and write us in the book of life, for Your sake, the living G-d. Who is like You, Father of Mercy, who remembers His creations for life, with mercy

וכתוב לחיים טובים כל בני בריתך: בספר חיים ברכה ושלום ופרנסה טובה נזכר ונכתב לפניך אנחנו וכל עמך בית ישראל לחיים טובים ולשלום
Write all of those in Your covenant for a good life. Let us be remembered and written before You in the book of life, blessing, peace, and a good livelihood. Us, and all of Your nation of the house of Israel, for a good life and for peace[2]

The days of Rosh Hashanah through Yom Kippur are known as Aseres Yemei HaTeshuva, the Ten days of Repentance. As the name sounds, it’s a time of introspection and prayer. Insertions are added to the daily prayer services, and they certainly match the theme of these days. We are constantly praying for life, as the famous prayer says: “Inscribe us in the book of life”. However, a careful analysis of some of these insertions will show a discrepancy. In the first half of the Shemoneh Esrei, also known as the Amidah prayers, we have a couple of insertions asking for life. However, in the second half of the Shemoneh Esrei, our request changes to a good life. Why is there this change? Are we asking for two different things?

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Rosh Hashanah 5784


Turning justice into mercy[1]

זה היום תחלת מעשיך זכרון ליום ראשון. כי חק לישראל הוא משפט לאלקי יעקב
Today is the beginning of Your creation; a remembrance of the first day. For it is a decree of Israel, a judgement for the G-d of Yaakov[2]

There are a few lines in the Rosh Hashanah prayers that are seemingly confusing. We say that today is the beginning of Your creation, and then we say it’s a commemoration of the first day. Isn’t that redundant? Furthermore, the next sentence, “For it is a decree of Israel, a judgement for the G-d of Yaakov”[3], is seemingly incongruous. Now, this happens to be a verse from Psalms. If we look at the previous verse, we do find some relevance to Rosh Hashanah: “Blow [תקעו] in the month of the shofar [שופר], on the covering of the day of our Festival”[4]. How can we make sense of all of this?

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Nitzavim/Vayeilech 5783


Yeravam’s David Dilemma[1]

ומל יקוק אלקיך את-לבבך ואת-לבב זרעך לאהבה את-יקוק אלקיך בכל-לבבך ובכל-נפשך למען חייך
Hashem, your G-d, will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your children, to love Hashem, your G-d, with all of your heart and all of your soul, so that you will live[2]

A theme of this week’s parsha is that of repentance. Quite apropos for the time of year that we’re in. Hashem promises that He will circumcise our hearts[3]. The idea being that just like the male organ has a physical barrier that must be removed, so too our heart has a metaphorical barrier that must be removed. The heart being the seat of emotions, Hashem tell us that what gets in the way of us serving Him properly is our uncircumcised hearts.

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