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Beyond the Holiday Season

by Yossi Katz

How was your Yom Tov? Mine was wonderful. First I experienced the awesome spiritual heights of being in Uman for Rosh HaShanah … then the solemn uplift of the holiest day of the year, Yom Kippur … then eight joyous days together with my family in the sukkah.

What comes next? Besides all the schlepping, like taking down the sukkah and cleaning up after Yom Tov, life has rapidly returned to “normal.” Kids are in school, mom and dad are back at work and the bills are all due. Was the holiday-packed month of Tishrei just a pleasant interlude, a kind of Jewish Oktoberfest to revel in before getting back to the business of daily living?

As difficult as it was to build our sukkahs, Noah’s Ark was an awesome feat. For 120 years, the Tzaddik toiled at building this massive structure. Not only was the construction physically challenging, but the placement of the parts and the structure itself alluded to deep spiritual concepts that he was forced to perceive. In Hebrew, the word teivah (Ark) also means “word.” During the 120 years he spent on building the Ark, Noah would meditate and pray according to the deep mystical concepts alluded to in its structure. The Zohar (Tikkun #21, p. 54) compares building the Ark to the service of Yom Kippur. It appears that Noah’s Yom Kippur was much longer than ours!

The Zohar (Hashmatot, Bereishit 254b) teaches that after the Flood, Noah witnessed the destruction of the world and began to cry. He said, “Master of the world, You are called compassionate. Why were You not compassionate for Your creation?” God rebuked him, “Foolish shepherd! Now you say this?” But Noah worked so hard to bring the Ark, he was truly a great Tzaddik, what did he do wrong?

While he toiled for 120 years, Noah was not able to bring even one Jew back to God. It wasn’t that Noah was lacking in piety. Quite the opposite – he was a tremendous Tzaddik. But he was lacking in his ability to perceive God’s absolute compassion. It was therefore most fitting that he be saved by being sealed in a box. Noah was unable to relate to those who had fallen away from God and holiness. He felt the need to always be perfect and could exist only in a spiritual bubble. His constant spiritual existence was like that of standing in shul and fasting and praying on Yom Kippur.

During Tishrei, we were blessed to be engaged in one spiritual endeavor after another. Hopefully, we became more aware of our connection to God and the existence and abilities of our special neshamot (souls). However, just as we left our Jewish homes, the pinnacle of holiness, for the sukkah, so too, we must leave behind the High Holidays season and rejoin “normal” life. But the sukkah taught us a tremendous lesson: Just like its sechach-roof, God is hovering over us always. His compassion is never-ending.

Moses was the one who brought this lesson home for us. Even after the Jewish People committed the colossal sin of the Golden Calf, Moses was able to arouse God’s mercy and kindness. Now we know that no matter how low we may fall, we can always return to God and be forgiven. We can look for God, and reveal His presence, even when He is hidden. No matter how imperfect the situation we find ourselves in, we can still relate to Him and serve Him.

God’s greatest desire is not for us to have a relationship with Him one month a year, but to get to know Him every day, in every facet of our lives. This is the challenge and greatness of every Jew. May we all merit a joyous year of true closeness with God. Amen!

Based on Likutey Halakhot, Hilkhot Shabbat 7

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