September 18, 2013

TISHREI 14, 5774

Candle-lighting Time: Wednesday night at 6:44 PM

This edition of Sparks of Torah is dedicated in the merit of a refua shlema for Raphael Shmuel Naftali ben Esther Liba.


Holidays, Holidays, and More Holidays

Rabbi Leban


Here we go again – another weekend in the month of Tishrei, another couple of Holidays. We have to start getting Kiddush wine and gefilte fish in bulk at Costco.

There is actually a Medrish that says that the holidays of the three last months of the year got pushed back into the month of Tishrei. Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Succos all ended up in Tishrei. Without explaining the deeper significance of the idea, suffice it to say, there are a lot of holidays in a short span of time. Ask anyone who has been cooking for them.

And right at the end – Simchas Torah. Of all things to have after all of these holidays. Besides – didn’t we celebrate Shavuos this past summer? That’s the holiday of the Torah, the day we received it on Mount Sinai. What do I need a holiday about the Torah for now?

At the culmination of the eight days of Succos, known as ‘Zman Simchaseinu,’ (the time of our joy) comes Simchas Torah. Some people are driven to tears by another round of holidays, but surely they’re tears of joy. What’re the joy and the day all about, anyway?

On Rosh Hashanah, as the new year got underway, we realized that we have what to work on. Our character, our relationships, our sanctity. By the time the last shofar was sounded, every one of us was hopefully inspired to improve and to grow.

By Yom Kippur, we were forgiven. A neshama (soul) that was once stained and poorly kept was dry-cleaned by the same-day-service cleaner in the heavens above. Nothing gets out the deep spiritual stains like a Yom Kippur.

Afterwards, it’s simcha time! Put up the little party-house with disco-blinking grape lights and take your clean new neshama out for a whirl. Our seforim hakedoshim (holy writings) explain that when a person has gone through a process of return and purification like Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, they are ready to feel the joy of closeness with their Creator.

So why top it all off with Simchas Torah?

When we close out the old year and begin the new, we take a long look at what the ledger shows. We make a few new year’s resolutions and swear up and down that this year is going to be different. No more squabbling with the spouse, no more loshon hara (gossip), a little more tzedaka.

And how, exactly, do we propose to pull that off? There’s only one tool that can help us achieve lasting spiritual growth – the Torah. Refinement of character and the appreciation of honesty, dignity and holiness are what the Torah is all about. When you know what you want to do, and then you realize you have just the right tool for the job, you feel happiness. That’s Simchas Torah. As the new year begins, and we have our work cut out for us, we need to start the cycle of our Torah learning again. Through dedicated Torah study we can achieve the goals we set for ourselves these past High Holidays.

Let’s pick up the tools and get to work. Together with our Torah and our simcha, we’re ready to tackle the new year. Assuming, of course, we live through all these holidays first.



Rabbi Nussbaum

Succos is here and we move to an outdoor panorama. We know that part and parcel of this Yom Tov is recognizing the supreme dominance of Hashem in every facet of our lives. It is rather difficult to absorb that lesson in the secure confines of our home. So we have to rough it  a little, eating and sleeping under the stars, in order to learn that it isn’t the roof that protects us from the elements, rather it is Hashem and His providence.

However, although a lofty thought, the halacha obligates us to recall the succos that our forbears travelled with in the desert. Whether they were actually housed in huts or under the protection of the Clouds of Divine Glory is a dispute in the Talmud. Nonetheless, our mandate is to remember, as we consume the beginning of our meal on the first night, that many generations ago, when we left Egypt and travelled in the desert, we were subject to the hazards of that trip and we were very scantly protected from the elements. This is unusual because normally we are only required to perform a mitzvah without such additional tangential thoughts. Why is there an extra prerequisite for this mitzvah?

Tur, one of the latter codifiers of Jewish law, explains that millions of people witnessed the phenomenon that we just discussed. It wasn’t something that was a hidden event that only a few privileged people saw, the entire nation was involved and it was transmitted from father to son for thousands of years until it has reached us here in the year 5774, (2013). When we dwell in our succos, not only do we commemorate the sacrifice and dedication of those who left Egypt in the year 2448, but additionally we review that Hashem rescued from that harsh bondage and took care of us for forty years in the desert until we arrived in Israel. Even though they did not have electrical heaters and lights to illuminate and provide comfort for them, they had a much better system. Hashem cared for them and attended to their every need. They had breakfast delivered to their doorstep every day in the form of Manna, they had a travelling well providing them with water wherever they went, and clouds above them shielding them from the hot sun and other discomforts.

Furthermore, not only is this mitzvah a virtual classroom of information and inspiration, but many of the mitzvos that we perform on a daily basis serve to enthuse us and remind us of what occurred many generations ago. Even Yom Kippur is a Yom Tov to remind us of our exodus from Egypt. Even though Yom Kippur reminds us of the Golden Calf, which it serves as the day of national forgiveness from, the fundamental reasoning behind every mitzvah in the Torah is to connect us to Hashem under the umbrella of being His people. Therefore, every mitzvah at its most elementary plane is an extension of our core perception that we became fused into the nation of Hashem when we were liberated from Egyptian bondage through the myriad miracles that He performed. Therefore, as you settle in to eat your delicious Yom Tov meal this Wednesday night, remember that the source of your sustenance is Hashem today the same way that he attended to your ancestors many years ago and throughout the ages.


A Question for the Rabbis

The question of disinterring a body buried in the Diaspora for burial in the Land of Israel is one which has been discussed extensively from Talmudic times until the present day. One of the central sources of the discussion appears in our parsha. The verse states, “[A]nd His land will atone for His people” (Deuteronomy 32:43). The Code of Jewish Law allows the body to be disinterred in order to bury it in Israel (Yoreh Deah 363:1), and the commentaries cite as the reason that the “very earth of the Land of Israel atones” (Siftei Cohen ad loc.). This verse is also the source of the custom mentioned in theCode of Jewish Law (ibid.) to place earth from the Land of Israel in the coffin when someone is buried outside of Israel.


Joke of the Week

I used to be indecisive. Now I’m not sure.


In the days when the Temple stood in Jerusalem, there was a special mitzvah during Succos, to draw water from a spring and pour it on the altar. This was to emphasize that the source of life, water, is only given to us because we are intensely attached and connected to Hashem.