Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Shmini Atzeres -- kashe alay pereidaschem

Over Sukkos we offer a total of seventy cows as korbanos musaf, corresponding to the seventy nations of the world. On Shmini Atzeres, however, we focus exclusively on our unique connection with Hashem. Rashi (Bamidbar 29:35) cites a Midrash which explains that Hashem so to speak tells us, “Kashe alay preidaschem,” your departure is painful – therefore let us share on final intimate meal together. The Shem m’Shemuel is troubled by this idea; he wonders whether the lingering goodbye suggested by Rashi’s interpretation does not make separation more difficult instead of easier. I am not so sure I sympathize emotionally with the question of the Shem m’Shmuel, but I do think that perhaps there is more to this idea of “kashe alay preidaschem” than meets the eye.

As we discussed during Sukkos, the four species of lulav, esrog, hadas, and aravah represent four different personality types. The fragrant and tasty esrog represents those who posses both good deeds and Torah scholarship; the lulav, with tasty fruit but no smell, represents those with scholarship but lacking in good deeds; the hadas, with its fragrance but no taste, represents those who posses good deeds but no scholarly ability; finally, the aravah represents those who have neither good deeds nor scholarly ability.

These four personality types do not only exist as four different types of Jews, but rather they co-exist inside each and every one of us. Sometimes we climb to great spiritual heights and become beautiful esrogim; sometimes we find ourselves unable to learn, unable to do mitzvos properly, and we become downtrodden aravos; other times we are somewhere in the middle. So who are we really? The answer is all of the above. The binding together of the four species on sukkos teaches that we must integrate all these different moods, all these different highs and lows, into one path of avodas Hashem.

The Midrash interprets the description of Eisav as “kulo k’aderes sei’ar,” as meaning that Eisav was like grain in a threshing house (known as an idra, a play on the word aderes), blown too and fro' by the sa’ar, the wind (a play on the word sei’ar). Eisav could not integrate his personality. He had great potential, and perhaps had moments where he rose to true spiritual heights -- but he also fell to true spiritual depths. He rode a psychological roller coaster up and down, never in touch with any core values that would serve as an anchor and help define himself.

When Haman spoke of our being, “Am m’fozar u’meforad,” he was not merely referring to the fact that we were scattered all over the globe. He was referring to the fact that in exile we had lost our core identity – our personality was scattered; that sense of wholeness and integration had been lost.

We have risen to such heights over the Yom Tov season, but now stand just days before our return to the mundane. Is the real you or me the person who stood at ne’ila davening, or the person who needs to rush out of shule next Monday to catch a train? The answer is both – we cannot live a split-personality existence. We need to somehow integrate that ne’ila and that Monday rush together in such a way that the sum is greater than either part.

Kashe alay pereidaschem” – Hashem doesn’t want us to become “mefuzar u’meforad,” to be pulled apart by the spirituality of Yom Tov in contrast to the daily grind, but rather to achieve a more elevated sense of sheleimus. Shmini Atzeres is not a lingering goodbye, but rather is a meal that lasts all year, as the inspiration of these days of the Yamim Noraim and Sukkos becomes part of who we are and helps shape our identity throughout the year to come.

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