Feeling a living Yiddishkeit
Rabbi Y. R. Rubin
Sometimes a small change can make a big difference. Usually the reading of the Torah on a Shabbos morning has a certain set pattern: the baal koreh chants the words at his usual pace; the mistake spotters do their job, waiting to pounce if a word is mispronounced; and the silence enforcement officers do their best to maintain quiet. Then occasionally something rare happns: the reader lowers his voice to almost a whisper and reads a long passage whose content, even to the untrained ear, sounds ominous. In Parshas Ki Savo we have such a passage in the reading of the tochacha- admonition. Its message can truly scare even the most bold of souls.
In short we are warned by Moshe Rabbenu what will befall us if we don’t follow the Torah. Our acceptance of the Torah and adherence to its mitzvos will assure that the blessings of Heaven will constantly rain upon us. Conversely, straying from the path of Torah will, G-d forbid, ultimately result in destruction, exile, and myriad curses.
This message is delivered in a low voice so as to awaken the listeners to the reality of our responsibilities. This is always read close to Rosh Hashonoh, seemingly to mold us into the right spiritual shape before the Hieliga Tag.
The Talmud (Megillah 31 b) explains that even in the rare occurrence when the cycle of Torah readings would not place this parsha before Rosh Hashonoh, a special enactment was made so that it would be. It seems that the reason for such an enactment is to scare us before the Day of Judgement so we should do teshuva. In fact the same Talmudic discussion tells us a different reason: in order that the year, and its curses, cease – allowing the New Year to begin with new blessings and good fortune.
I would like to share a thought or two on this matter. I recently came across an article by Rabbi Eliyahu Fink which explored the reasons why some of our young,( and sadly not so young ) leave the Torah fold. He makes a bold yet simple statement: “People do not do what they do because they think it’s true or right. People do what they do because it’s what they want to do.”
This minimalist statement encapsulates much of what some in the Chinuch world have been saying for a long time. Young people will usually follow the Torah path if it is felt to be something they want to do. People do things for all sorts of reasons, some good, many not so good. A person who smokes knows it’s wrong, yet he will keep on inhaling the poison because he feels at that moment that the pleasure of the smoke overrides his knowledge of the repercussions of the habit . As Rabbi Fink succinctly puts it: “The thing that determines whether an adult will practice Orthodox Judaism is not what they believe. It is what they feel!”
Many of our youngsters won’t be kept in the Torah community just with education and academic achievement; they need to feel living Yiddishkeit. They need warmth and joyful experiences so that their basic need for connection is created at their core.
The Olas Shabbos tells us of a hapless Jew who once ascended upon High, having lived a long and less-than-fruitful life. There, he was told the unfortunate news that, because of his misdeeds, he would have to descend to Gehinom as opposed to being admitted to Gan Eden. Or, if he preferred, his soul could descend once again to the physical realm, where he would be given another chance to get it right.
Before making his fateful decision, he asked for permission to see Gan Eden and Gehinom, in order to fully understand his options.
The ministering angel first took him to the gates of Gan Eden. Inside, he saw a tremendous, sparkling beis medrash. Holy neshomas sat and studied the Torah with great fervour and joy. The din of their voices rose to a crescendo, and not once did anyone stop for even a moment to take a break.
“This,” the angel told him, “is the first chamber of Gan Eden. Now let me take you ‘downstairs’.”There, at the gates of Gehinom, he was once again given a “taste” of the World to Come. He was shown a great beis medrash, packed with sefarim. Inside, souls sat and studied the Torah, not once stopping to take a break from their studies.
Confused, he turned to the ministering angel. “But I don’t understand – they look exactly the same!”
“Correct,” the angel said. “For them, it is Gan Eden – and for them, it is Gehinom.”
Torah life is wondrous, and our young deserve its full potential. We owe it to them to experience its warmth so they will truly want it for themselves.
Let us pray that the tochacha of this year will end the curses and bleakness of so many. Let us give our young a Torah life that they will want to aspire to. The Zohar tells us that in fact all the curses and harsh words of the tochacha are really a veil for untold blessings and goodness. May we be blessed to understand them in that way.