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Torah Attitude: Parashas Nitzavim/ Rosh Hashanah: Serve G'd with joy
"Serve G'd with joy". Every year we celebrate Pesach as our time of freedom. Although Purim and Pesach are celebrated in very different fashions, nevertheless there is a common denominator of joy and happiness when we celebrate these two festivals. The seventh day of Pesach, when we commemorate how our ancestors miraculously crossed the sea, is a day of great joy. When we say the song our ancestors sang, after crossing the sea with happiness, and imagine as if we just crossed the sea ourselves, G'd is ready to forgive us for our sins. The exodus from Egypt came to its culmination on Shavuous at the revelation at Mount Sinai.
Serve G'd with joy
In last week's Torah Attitude we discussed the importance of serving G'd with joy, as King David says in Tehillim (100:2): "Serve G'd with joy". As we stand on the threshold of Rosh Hashanah, we try to prepare ourselves for our yearly day of judgment. Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are called Days of Awe, for the judgement we all face is both real and awesome. However, at the same time we exhibit our faith in G'd's mercy with His chosen nation, and we actually celebrate the Day of Judgment. In Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 581:4) we are instructed to dress up for the occasion, for we feel confident that G'd will accept our repentance and inscribe the Jewish people for a good year. The Shulchan Aruch (ibid 597:1) further rules that after the service on Rosh Hashanah we shall enjoy a festive meal, as we do on other festivals. To underscore this the Chofetz Chaim (Mishnah Berurah ibid 1) quotes from Nehemiah (8) where the first Rosh Hashanah after the rebuilding of the Temple is described. Many Jews had assimilated and married gentile women and they started to cry when the leader of the generation, Ezra Hasofer, read from the Torah. At that point Ezra and Nehemiah got up and said (ibid 8:9-10): "Today is a holy day, dedicated to HASHEM your G'd, do not mourn and do not cry … eat … and drink … and send portions to those who have not prepared for themselves … for rejoicing with G'd is your strength." Similarly, we find in Tehillim (for example 96:11-13) how King David instructs us to rejoice when G'd judges. "The Heavens shall be glad and the earth shall rejoice … before G'd, for He has arrived … to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness and people with His truth." Obviously, we are not expected to rejoice only on Rosh Hashanah. Rather we are encouraged to celebrate all our festivals with joy, and go through the year in happiness.
The first of our festivals is Pesach (see Talmud Rosh Hashanah 4a). Every year we celebrate Pesach as our time of freedom. In the Haggadah we recite how everyone should feel as if we just left Egypt. Our ancestors left Egypt in an elevated spirit of joy to be free of their masters and the influence of Egyptian culture of immorality and idol worship. So shall we enjoy and utilize the heightened atmosphere of Seder night and the rest of Pesach to elevate ourselves above contemporary permissiveness and corruption and live up to our status as G'd's chosen nation to be a light for others, rather than to be influenced by them and assimilate into the nations of the world.
The Talmud (Ta'anis 24a) states that as the month of Adar commences we shall increase in gladness. Rashi comments that the reason for this increase in gladness is in appreciation of the miraculous salvations we experienced on Purim and Pesach. This clearly teaches that although Purim and Pesach are celebrated in very different fashions, nevertheless there is a common denominator of joy and happiness when we celebrate these two festivals.
Crossing the sea
The seventh day of Pesach, when we commemorate how our ancestors miraculously crossed the sea, is a day of great joy. At that point, Moses led them in joyous song, as we say every morning and evening before Shemona Esrei.
Imagine crossing the sea
These days before Rosh Hashanah, we seek ways to achieve forgiveness for our sins. We have an amazing opportunity, when we say the song our ancestors sang after crossing the sea every morning at the end of Pesukei deZimrah. The Chofetz Chaim (Mishnah Berurah 51:17) quotes from the Zohar that if we say it with happiness, and imagine as if we just crossed the sea ourselves, G'd is ready to forgive us for our sins. Obviously, if we sincerely feel so close to G'd and sing His praise for saving the Jewish people at the time, when they crossed the sea, it will influence us to live a life of observance of the mitzvot, and help us to continue to live with an awareness of G'd in all our activities.
The exodus from Egypt came to its culmination on Shavuous at the revelation at Mount Sinai. G'd already revealed this to Moses prior to sending him to Egypt. As it says: (Shemos 3:12): "And He said … When you take the people out of Egypt you will serve G'd on this mountain."
Till the Jewish nation received the Torah we were not truly free, as it says in Pirkei Avos (6:2): "No one is truly free unless he engages in the study of Torah." Real freedom is not achieved just because one is not enslaved by others. Rather, it manifests itself with the ability to choose right from wrong and being above the influence of the media and society in general. When the Jewish people stood by the sea, they were still referred to as idol worshippers. They were still somewhat influenced by the Egyptian culture and lifestyle that they had live with for hundreds of years. Only when they chose to accept the Torah and said (Shemos 23:7) "Na'aseh ve'Nishma" (We shall observe and shall listen) did they rise above any foreign influence. In the same way, when we study Torah we see the world in a different light. This enables us to elevate ourselves from the influence of our contemporary permissive society. Torah study influences us to observe the mitzvot, such as putting on a tallit and tefillin, blowing shofar, and taking the four species in the appropriate time. It further helps us to develop into better members of society. The Torah obligates us to be honest in our dealings and business affairs and to treat each other with respect and kindness. The Torah also guides us how to treat our spouses and educate our children as special individuals and not to compare them to each other. Rather than to criticize them, we must seek ways to develop their individual strength. In this way our spouses and children also become stronger to withstand the influence of the outside world.
The revelation at Mount Sinai was not only the culmination of the exodus from Egypt. It was also the final step of creation. Rashi (Bereishis 1:31) quotes from the Midrash Tanchuma (8) that the entire creation was dependent on the Jewish people accepting the Torah at Mount Sinai. When they said Na'aseh ve'Nishma both the upper and lower worlds rejoiced in jubilation, as mentioned in the special yotzrot prayers on Shavuous.
To be continued. BSD.
In the merit of serving G'd with joy may we all be inscribed to a Ketiva VaChatima Tova with all the very best, together with the rest of the Jewish people!
These words were based on notes of Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.
Shalom. Michael Deverett
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