“Tithe if you love Jesus, any fool can honk.” I recently saw this bumper sticker, and though I certainly don’t connect to the “Jesus” part, I thought the line was succinct and powerful. Honking doesn’t show love; honking is easy. Tithing takes time, money and commitment. The way that we show our devotion to anyone or anything is through meaningful actions.
Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, the great Modern Orthodox rabbi of the 20th century, famously wrote in his epic work, “Lonely Man of Faith,” that “prayer must always be related to a prayerful life.” Words, even words spoken to God, are only words. When we back up those words in our daily lives, that’s when those words have lasting power.
We are coming off of a month with hyper-focus on prayer and words. The month of Tishrei is jam-packed. Between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah, we are taken through a whole host of emotions, practices and experiences. We encounter joy and inspiration, singing and dancing, prayer and food! We spend much time in prayer and in shul. And then, Cheshvan hits, and there are no Jewish holidays. Back to the grind — back to regular life!
After the spiritual highs of Tishrei, how do we sustain the inspiration and the meaning as we go back to our normal lives?
An answer can be found in a little-known practice recorded in the Mishnah for the end of the days of Sukkot. We tend to think of Sukkot and Shemini Atzeret/Simchat Torah as one long holiday. But in fact, Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah are a holiday in their own right, separate from Sukkot. Because of this distinction, the Mishnah tells us:
Once one finished eating [his meal on the seventh and last day of Sukkot], he should not untie his sukkah, but he removes its contents from the time of Mincha and onwards in honor of the last day of the festival. (Sukkah 4:8)
The commentaries explain that by bringing the contents of the sukkah into the house, it shows that we are preparing the home for the new holiday. Practically speaking, this means that our table gets transferred inside. We will need the dishes, chairs, tables, etc. for Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah. (For those who sit in the sukkah on Shemini Atzeret, the removal of these items would happen in the afternoon of day 8. Also, today, since often people don’t need the table and chairs from the sukkah because we have other ones inside, there may not be a need to actually move them inside).
This is on a practical level. However, my Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Dov Linzer, has pointed out that there is a deeper way to understand this practice. The Targum Yonatan translates “Shemini Atzeret” as the ingathering from the sukkah into the house. Citing this, Rabbi Linzer writes:
“By this definition, Shemini Atzeret is a Yom Tov (holiday) of transition. It tells us that we need to take time to focus on moving from one experience to another. We cannot simply leave one meaningful experience and abruptly put ourselves in another context. We must pause and be thoughtful about the critical moment of transition.
Sukkot concludes a profound period, one that begins in Elul and intensifies through Tishrei. By the end of Sukkot, we have gone through weeks of self-reflection, prayer, teshuva, and drawing closer to God. Our time living in the sukkah has reminded us of God’s palpable protection in the wilderness, when we only had a flimsy hut for shelter. And we have realized that, even in our firm and stable homes, we only succeed in this world only because of God’s help and God’s protection …
… And then it is time to move back into our homes. Will we take these messages with us, or will we soon get used to our comfortable routine and lose our sensitivity to God’s presence?”*
If we want to take the inspiration of Tishrei into Cheshvan, it requires thought and intentionality. And if we do not take the inspiration of Tishrei into Cheshvan, then why do Tishrei?
As we move into Cheshvan, what will you be taking with you from Tishrei? How will your words of prayer lead to a prayerful life, how will the lessons of sukkot be taken into your home, how will our deep connection to God inspire us on a daily basis?
Let this be the year where the daily becomes the Divine.
Retrieved from: library.yctorah.org/2018/09/the-power-of-torah
Rabbi Chai Posner is Beth Tfiloh Congregation’s associate rabbi. He lives in Pikesville with his wife, Rachel, and their four children. Rabbi Posner will succeed Rabbi Mitchell Wohlberg, effective Jan. 1, 2022, upon Rabbi Wohlberg’s retirement following a 40-year tenure as Beth Tfiloh’s rabbi.
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