Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Shabbos Mevarichim Cheshvan/Bereishis: The Mad Grab

The beginning of Parshas Bereishis is tremendously exciting. The Midrash tells us that Hashem was never so happy as He was when He decided to create the world. The word Beireshis, the first word of the Torah beings with the letter Beis. Chazal tell us that Hashem decided to start the Torah (and therefore creation as a whole) with the letter Beis because Beis is the letter of Bracha which means blessing, and God wanted to kick things off with Bracha.

But from that point and on everything goes downhill. The second Passuk speaks of the abyssal and dark state of the universe and Chazal tell us that the four descriptions of emptiness of the universe are really references to the four exiles of the Jewish people. Such a depressing topic – in the second verse!

Everything goes wrong. Chazal tell us that the lower waters fought with the higher waters. The Sun and Moon get into a fight. The Trees rebel. Adam HaRishon, the first man – with limitless potential - he sins. And after he does Teshuva, and brings Hevel into the world (who had the soul of Moshiach Tzidkeinu!) Kayin comes along and kills him! We see the first Avodah Zarah, the first war-lord. Adam is cursed. Chava is Cursed. The Snake is cursed. The Land is cursed. Nothing goes right.

But at the very end of the Parsha things take a small up-turn. “V’Noach Matza Chein B’Einei Hashem.” But Noach found favor in the Eyes of Hashem.

Rabbi Sitorsky offers the following explanation of the series of events in the Parsha. Bereishis is the first Parsha, it contains within it, as the Ramban tells us, a map for all of history, but it also sheds light on the life of every person from year to year.

We start the year off with a bang. Elul. I’m doing Teshuva. Rosh HaShana, I’m flying, I’m close to Hashem – things are amazing. Aseres Yimei Teshuva, I’m doing even better. Yom Kippur, I’m Mamesh in Heaven. Succos, I’m sitting in Emunah, Chag Ha’Asif, bringing it all home. All of this is that excited Beis that we saw the Torah start with.

But the moment that comes to a close, we read Parshas Bereishis, and the Yetzer HaRa attacks. He says, “Your accomplishments? Their fake. You were just caught up in the moment. And let’s be honest, with a few days you’ll be right back at your old Aveiros anyway. So do me a favor, get over yourself – quickly if possible – so that we can get back to business as usual. Cheshvan is here and there are no special Mitzvos to be done, let’s see how high and holy you really are.”

The Yetzer Hara deceives us with his specially crafted tactic to make us lose what we’ve gained in these last two months. He even rubs it in when we slip in the slightest, “AH! See?! I got you.” He takes all of our built up excitement, all of our Beis, makes us slip-up a little bit, and leaves with no escape route as we enter into Cheshvan, eventually making the year a lot less than it could have been.

But Bereishis doesn’t end with the same negative tone that carried through for most of the Parsha. It ends with a positive hope for things to come. “ “V’Noach Matza Chein B’Einei Hashem.” But Noach found favor in the Eyes of Hashem.

Rabbi Sitorsky points out that the numerical values of both Noach and Chein are fifty-eight. And what is fifty-eight? The total sum of days in the months Elul and Tishrei.

What is Hashem saying to us with this short message? He’s says, “Don’t let the Yeter HaRa fool you. It’s true, even through you started off flying, you may mess up, the rest of the year may not go as planned. But that doesn’t mean that the accomplishments you reached in Elul and Tishrei were fake. I adore your efforts. I love the work that you put in. You’re gold. Your fifty-eight days (Noach) have found favor in my eyes (Chein). And that energy is right here waiting for you.

For this reason Hashem is closing off these Days of Awe with Shabbos Mevarchim Cheshvan - and it comes in with an important message: Even though things might not go the way you planned, know that your previous accomplishments don’t just go away. That treasury of empowerment is always available as long as you’re willing to believe it is there, and you are strong enough to bring yourself there.

Perhaps we can take this a step further by giving a more detailed analysis of the month we are entering.

We know that each of the Twelve Tribes is connected to a specific month of the year. Cheshvan, the Eight Month, the Chodesh HaShemini is connected to the tribe of Menasheh (Shmoneh, which means ‘eight’ is comprised of the same letters as Menasheh.) When traveling in the desert on the way to Israel, each Tribe traveled under a banner, which on some level captured the essence of that tribe. Menasheh traveled under the Wild Ox. Why the Wild Ox specifically? Chazal tells us it is because the Wild Ox has beautiful horns that parallel the beautiful and valiant actions of Gidon, a decendant of the tribe of Menasheh, who would eventually save the Jewish people from the hands of Midyan.

The story of Gidon centers around a very interesting nuance that sets it aside from all the other stories in Sefer Shoftim. The usual format is as follows: Jews sin, oppressors come and begin killing, the Shofet stands up and arouses the people to Teshuva and war, they kill the enemy, all is well.

By Gidon things are different. While it is true that the people sin and he, the Shofet takes control to save the day, the enemy wasn’t coming to kill the Jews. As described by the verses, the people of Midyan did not come to kill the people – they, with the help of Amalek came to impoverish them. The verses describe how they ruined the crops and destroyed the fields. For seven years that took all that Am Yisrael grew, and prevented them from reaping the benefits.

Gidon stands up and says, “No way. I’m not going to tolerate this. When a Jew works, when he puts in the effort, no force is worthy to take that away.” So he takes the fight to Midyan and Amalek and ensures that Am Yisrael can bring home the fruit of their labors.

The connection is beautiful. What is growing a field? Both physically and metaphorically, the field is where effort becomes tangible. The work put into a field translates very legitimately into something earned. This is the months of Elul and Tishrei. We put in all of this work, we try to cram in as much growth as possible – and we really do accomplish a lot. But the Yetzer HaRa, or the Snake, or Kayin or Midyan, or Amalek – call it what you like – comes and tries to take those accomplishments away. To take all of that excitement and not let it become internalized. They come right after Succos - Chag Ha’Asif, the festival where we gather in the produce – and they try to ruin the crop. They try to convince you that your accomplishments aren’t worth anything.

But comes Gidon, the ultimate expression on Menasheh, the spiritual director of Cheshvan and says “V’Noach Matza Chein B’Einei Hashem.” As we go into a month that lies open for the taking we can go in with our earnings robbed, or we can internalize the message of Bereishis and proudly enter into Cheshvan carrying what is truly ours. What is yours is yours, and no force should be allowed to take it away from you.

The year may not go as well as you want it. So what. Hashem is telling us that even if that happens, there is a reservoir of inspiration so deep, and so accessible, if only you wish to tap into it.

We should all be Zoche to such an outlook. To truly understand that my accomplishments in the last two months are mine if I want them is the understanding that will empower me to make the most of the months to come. If I can truly internalize the gains of Elul and Tishrei as we go into Cheshvan then I have with me all the empowerment that I need to make this the best year ever. We all can do this, and if we do there is no doubt we will live lives of Simcha and meaning, moving closer to HaKadosh Baruch Hu and ultimately the Geulah!

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