In the beginning of God’s creation, God created a perfect world, day by day, until God reached the pinnacle of His creations, “Na’aseh Addam B’tzalmenu kidmutenu, let us (plural form) make Man in our image and in our form.”
Interpreters were puzzled about the plural form of, “let us.” Most of them note that God got the heavenly angels to join Him in the creation of Man. But the angels who usually run in joy to fulfill God’s commandments, this time where not only reluctant, but actually said, “Why, should we create Man, after all, He is not going to fulfill God’s commandments.” Other interpreters said similarly that the heavenly angels resisted creating Man because he will have free will that would be based on his knowledge and understanding, and mostly not God’s will and commandments (Mitzvot). However, according to Midrash, when God completed creating Man, it was in such perfect form that the angels were no longer reluctant but rather sang praises to God for His creation. Then, shortly after creation something went very wrong…
This past Sunday, I joined a group of people celebrating the success of
certain individuals in a San Fernando recovery house. It was a very emotional
morning for me. One by one these ex-drug users, ex-robbers, ex-thieves, and even an ex-accidental killer, came on stage to receive appreciation awards for their current accomplishments. They were all successful for several months and some for years in resisting their temptations by committing themselves to an “unsoiled” future. One by one they shared a bit of their personal story. It was very painful to me to hear their dreadful and sad narratives. One ex-felon said that he was so grateful for his life now, that he knows that, “even the angels are jealous of me.” This sentence was carved on my heart.
Maimonides reveals in his commentary to us, about the nature of the
first Man before his wrong-doing. He did all that he was supposed to do as part of his innate character, just as the heavenly angles do the will of God without any deviations. He was given one commandment, not to eat from Etz Ha’da’at (the Tree of Knowledge). Why? He answered, because, the fruit of this tree would put into a person the desire to choose tov (good) or ra (evil).
So biblical commentators questioned, if the first Man was basically a
free will being, how was there free will before the knowledge of, and the desire
for ra (evil) existed? Rav Haim of Volozhin (1749-1821 Poland, Talmudist and
Ethicist) explains that the first Man did indeed have the ability of choosing
between good and evil, however, he was the embodiment of unsullied purity and holiness without any internal leaning toward evil. Any desire toward evil came from an external source (the snake). Today, we hear our desires for evil in first person, “I really want to do that…” The desires for good then speaks to us in a second person, “You know that you really shouldn’t…” The “I” is the want to do evil. At times, the relentless mutiny within each of us is so very hard to resist, that if we do not have a support system, we at times, cannot resist doing evil to ourselves and others around us.
What kind of support system do “I” have when I want to do evil? How is it possible that I want to cause others or myself destruction? Do I blame everything on the “snake” or an external source for my wrong doings? This week we begin the yearly cycle of Torah reading, “In the beginning”… Starting again… a new year, perhaps we need to ask ourselves an important question.
Let each of us check into our soul and try to answer, “Whom do I support?” and “Who supports me? Do I have the same names on both lists? Why? Is the list of names the same as last year’s list? Why?"
No matter how you answer these questions, I hope and pray that your life of being supported and supporting others would be such that, as the ex-drug user and dealer said, even the angels would be jealous of you.
On the first day you shall take the product of the goodly trees, branches of palm trees, boughs of leafy trees, and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God seven days. (Leviticus 23:40).
Together, the four species are shaken in six directions during Hallel, signifying that God is found everywhere. It is considered a Mitzvah to buy the most beautiful Lulav and Etrog you can afford, in order to beautify the Mitzvah, and honor the holy day.
The first three (willow, palm, and myrtle) are bound together and collectively
called a Lulav set. The fourth is the Etrog (citron), a sweet smelling citrus
fruit grown in Israel. It is held together with the Lulav and brought both to
the synagogue where it is waved as Hallel is recited. The Lulav and Etrog are
also waved in the Sukkah. Ancient Israel was first and foremost an agricultural society and the laws, customs, and rituals described in the Torah reflect this. The four species symbolize the agricultural abundance of and God's role in nourishing Israel.
Why four species? Why not three or five? While I cannot provide an academic answer to this question, there are many wonderful Drashot for the number four.
Perhaps the best known is that there are four types of Jews (like the Four Children in the Passover Haggadah: the Etrog, which possesses both taste and fragrance, symbolizes those who possess both learning and good deeds. The Lulav, palm branches, possess taste but no fragrance, symbolizing those who possess learning but do not perform good deeds. The myrtle is the inverse of the palm, possessing no taste but having a pleasant fragrance; this is likened to those who are not learned but do good deeds. Finally, the willow has neither taste nor fragrance, symbolizing those who possess neither learning nor good deeds.
We, of course, wish to be the Etrog, possessing both learning and good deeds. But the reality of life is that our communities are made of all four types of people and because community is such a high priority in Judaism, we bind all four species together, as we ought to bring together all Jews in one community.
Borrowed from: http://www.ahbjewishcenter.org/
My Dear Congregants,
If you had one minute left to live, what would you like to recall or do?
Would it be your family? Would it be your friends? Would you
choose to lie down and peacefully wait for the minute to end? Would you choose to share a laugh with another person? Would you choose to run around pointlessly but joyously with your significant other? Would you smell each and every flower in your yard?
Whatever you choose to recall or do, just please make it count!
Make it count for you and your recall. Make that one-minute a beautiful piece of art! A canvas filled with color, fragrance, and the beauty of life. May you remember it even… if the one minute has arrived.
Avinu Sh’Bashmayim, dear God in heaven, please bless each and every one of the people I love, with good health, happiness and peace. May we all strive to live our lives fully, one minute at the time.
Avinu Sh’Bashmayim, dear God in heaven, please let me have many more minutes with my congregants. Let my prayers be acceptable to you.
Avinu Sh’Bashmayim, dear God in heaven I cherish so dearly each moment I spend with them. My sweet and loving friends, each one of your Neshamas (souls) brings an immense joy into my life.
Thank you. Toda Rabba, I thank each one of you, separately and all together.
Avinu Sh’Bashmayim, dear God in heaven, let my prayers be acceptable to you, so that my life may be an example of the teachings of Torah. I promise to care for the widow, the orphan, and poor, as much as I can, and wherever I can find them. I promise to put Israel and Ahavat Torah on top of my donation list. I will continue to adore and cherish my family, and do all that I can to keep them healthy, safe and together, and continue to do my very best to share my time and energy with them.
When I forget, forgive me. When I falter, remind me. When I weaken correct me. In my efforts,
PLEASE be with me.
I am wishing you a Ketiva v’hatima Tova! May you, your family, and all your loved ones be inscribed in the Book of Good Life and Good Health. Amen
See you all Friday for Kol-Nidrei, and on Saturday for Yom-Kippur.
Late last night I spoke with my dear friend Dalit for two hours. Dalit is a world famous ceramic sculptress who lives near Tzfat in Northern Galilee. She
got home in June of this year after a long trip to Central America. At first, when she heard some muted boom sounds, she did not know what they were. Very quickly she realized that these boom sounds were coming from Syria, just a short air distance away from her home.
She could not believe how life in Israel is going on “as usual” when thousands of people are being killed across the border and the world, again, is silent. At first she was not able to sleep at night, having a really hard time hearing these horrible sounds of bombs falling on women, children, the elderly and those who were not able to leave the area. She was having nightmares of the last war Israel had with the Hezbollah in Lebanon, as the terrorist movement rained shells on half of Israel indiscriminately. Yet, like most things in life, in order to survive the horrific reality of life around us, we create our own imaginary “beautiful world.” A few people even said to her “let them kill one another.” Suddenly, the world she knew collapsed. She was questioning the ethics of people she loved and knew very closely for many years.
This is one of the poems she wrote. By next week, God willing, I will translate her second poem.
HEARING THE BOMBS AND ROCKETS
Don’t you hear the falling bombs and rockets?
How can we continue to live our daily serene lives
When in the background are the sounds of tanks
Where hundreds and thousands of people die daily
Men, women and children,
A short “spit” distance away is... hell.
But who cares?
“Let them kill one another,” they say.
There are those in this war who see pure profit
And we are such an ethical nation
Does ethics knows the difference between race and color?
Is there such a thing as double (standard) ethics?
And the sound of the bombs,
that accompany my life for months
Flashes in my mind of ghastly pictures
That are coming closer and closer
And they don’t let my soul rest.
The nervous tension in the air is real.
The hate in the area is mounting
Without boundaries and restrictions
It is endless.
And we, as mere mortals
About Rabbi Miriam
Rabbi Miriam E. Hamrell MHL, M.Ed., has served as our religious and spiritual leader at Ahavat Torah Congregation and helped it grow since it was founded in 2003.