Thursday, Elul 26, 5776 / September 29, 2016 - Hakhel year
This will be the last Torah Fax for this Hebrew calendar year, 5776. I would like to conclude the year with the following story which emphasizes the importance of everyone’s prayer. Even when one cannot read the Hebrew text, one can pray in any other language. G-d understands every language. “G-d sees straight to the heart,” say our sages. The following illustrates the power of sincere prayer.
Rabbi Israel, commonly referred to as "The Baal Shem Tov," emphasized the spiritual greatness which lies within every Jew. Contrary to the thinking of many scholars at the time, he explained that the mitzvah of loving ones fellow, applies as much to the "simple" Jew as to the greatest sage. “The ignorant and common person,” he said, “is no less connected to G-d than the sage and scholar.”
The Baal Shem Tov admired and very much encouraged those Jews who, in their simplicity, did their best to observe the mitzvot. He felt that their commitment, observance and love of G-d come purely from the heart. Here is one story to illustrate this.
There was a Jewish farmer who used to pray in the synagogue of the Baal Shem Tov on the High Holidays. The farmer was a simple man, barely able to recite the Hebrew prayers. One year when he came for Yom Kippur, he also brought his son, who had turned Bar Mitzvah. As little as the father knew, the son knew even less. The young boy, being a shepherd, always carried a flute with him. He loved to play while the sheep were grazing. Without the father's knowledge, the boy brought the flute with him.
The Baal Shem Tov and the congregation were reciting the Yom Kippur prayers with great enthusiasm and emotion. The fervor and holiness of this great day was felt in the air. The boy, not being able to read, yet feeling a desire to express his feeling to G-d, decided to play to G-d on the flute! When his father noticed him taking the flute, he angrily rebuked him. "It is prohibited to play this on this holy day--especially in a synagogue! How dare you desecrate this holiest day of the year with your flute!" Reluctantly, the boy put the flute back.
Later in the day, as the Cantor was reciting the final Neilah prayer, the boy's desire and urge to express his feeling for G-d became even stronger. This time, he took out the flute and let out a sound. Everyone was shocked! Everyone's eyes turned toward him. Some even wanted to lead the boy out of the synagogue for desecrating this Holy day. The boy's father didn't know where to bury himself out of shame. But it was too late.
When the prayers were finally over, the Baal Shem Tov approached the boy and thanked him!
To the amazement of all the people, the Baal Shem Tov explained, "The innocence, sincerity and pure intentions with which this lad blew the flute made a great impression in heaven. It accomplished more than all our prayers. In fact, all of our prayers were elevated and reached their desired heavenly destination only as a result of this lad's sound which came from the bottom of his heart in great sincerity!
Note:I will be away from the Torah Fax desk for a few weeks. I will resume, G-d willing, when I return.
SHANA TOVA UMETUKA – A HAPPY, HEALTHY, SUCCESSFUL & SWEET NEW YEAR
Tuesday, Elul 24, 5776 / September 27, 2016 - Hakhel year
On the first day of Rosh Hashana, after the Mincha service, it is customary to go to a body of water - a lake, river or stream that has fish in it and perform the Tashlich service.
Tashlichmeans "cast away". The Tashlich service consists of different verses from the Bible and Psalms. After reciting the Tashlich service, we shake out our pockets (or the corners of our garments) over the water. This symbolizes the words of the prophet Micha: "And thou shall throw into the depth of the sea all your sins.”
Q.What is the symbolic significance of throwing away our sins at a body of water on Rosh Hashana?
A. The Midrash tells us that when Abraham went to offer Isaac as a sacrifice, Satan tried to intervene. So he put a river in their way to block their path. Abraham and Isaac continued walking, right into the river. When the water reached their necks, Abraham exclaimed, "Save us O Lord, for the waters have come to take my soul." At that point, G-d ordered Satan to remove the obstruction. Tashlich, like many other Rosh Hashana customs, commemorates the acts of our forefathers. By reciting Tashlich near water, we recall the self-sacrifice of Abraham and Isaac and ask G-d to apply their merit in our favor.
Another reason: In Biblical times, it was the custom to anoint every king near a body of water so that his rule might flow smoothly and continuously like a river. Similarly, we say Tashlich by water for it is a time when we proclaim G-d as King of the universe.
Q.What is the significance of having fish in the water?
A.The reason we try to find a river that has fish for Tashlich: Fish have no eyelids, their eyes are always open. In the same way, we ask Hashem who, "neither sleeps nor slumbers" (Psalms 121) to watch over us continuously and bless us and our loved ones with a happy, healthy, and sweet year.
During the Middle Ages, ignorant peasants used the custom of Tashlich as an excuse for a pogrom against Jews. They claimed that Jews were casting a spell over the water or even poisoning it. As a result, the Rabbis would at times prohibit the practice of Tashlich for fear that Jewish lives would be endangered! Today, we can all celebrate this wonderful custom. If you cannot get to water on Rosh Hashana, you can perform the custom even after Rosh Hashana.
Q. Why is the Torah reading on the first day of Rosh Hashana about the miraculous birth of our patriarch Yitzchak (Isaac)?
A. Yitzchak was born on Pesach 400 years before the Exodus. He was born on the day that G-d would choose to take the Jewish people out of Egypt 400 years later. It was on Rosh Hashana that Sarah, at the age of 90, became pregnant with Yitzchak. Thus, we read about this miracle on Rosh Hashana.
HAVE A VERY GOOD, HAPPY, HEALTHY AND SUCCESSFUL DAY & SHANA TOVA