Wednesday, September 29, 2010

First Words of the New Year

"In the beginning... "
Simchat Torah and the First Words of the New Year

Tishrei 21, 5770/September 29, 2010
Hoshana Rabba

Today is the seventh and final day of the Sukkot festival, also known by the name Hoshana Rabba. Hoshana Rabba is a day both intensely solemn and intensely joyful. If this seems reminiscent of Yom Kippur, it is not coincidental. Hoshana Rabba "completes" the entire process of personal stock-taking and return to HaShem that began seven weeks ago with the onset of the month of Elul, and reached its crescendo on Yom Kippur. On Rosh HaShana we stand before HaShem, our King and Judge, and write our names into His Book of Life. On Yom Kippur the very same Book of Life is sealed, and on Hoshana Rabba the book, (and its verdict), is delivered. Of course, when it comes to teshuva, (returning to G-d and to the path of Torah), G-d is always ready to receive us, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, (yes, even on Shabbat), every day of the year. But in terms of setting for ourselves our goals and intentions for the coming year, the seven weeks which stretch from Elul to Hoshana Rabba form both the written text and the clean slate that will inform our spiritual well-being throughout the upcoming year.
How do we know that we have responsibly utilized this time given to us and have truly effected change in our selves, in how we relate to others and how we relate to G-d? Is there a preview or clue that can show us that we are not, in fact, precisely the same person that we were when we began our process of introspection and spiritual endeavor? Yes, there does exist a tried and true litmus test which can evince for us a clear answer to our question, and this is Shmini Atzeret, the day which immediately follows Hoshana Rabba.
Shmini Atzeret, literally, "the assembly of the eighth day," is also known as Simchat Torah, the day of rejoicing with the Torah. (In the diaspora Shmini Atzeret and Simchat Torah are celebrated on two consecutive days.) On this day, Jews around the world assemble in their synagogues, take out their Torah scrolls from the aron kodesh, (holy ark), in which they are kept, and dance joyfully with the Torah scrolls in their arms. The dancing, which can last for hours, is then followed by the public reading of the final chapters and verses of Deuteronomy, which describe Moshe's blessing to his people, his death on Mount Nevo, east of the Jordan River, and Yehoshua's assumption of leadership. This is then followed by the reading of the opening verses of the book of Genesis, which describe the six days of creation and the advent of Shabbat, the day of rest. In this manner we inaugurate our yearly reading of the five books of Torah.
The sign that we seek is evident in the first letters, words and verses of Genesis. We do, in fact, read these same words every year, year-in and year-out, and if they seem a bit old, tiresome, or stale; if they don't elicit deep within our souls a spark of excitement, a new, never-before explored challenge, then this is indeed a worrisome reflection of our own inner spiritual state. But if, as to be anticipated, these opening words of Torah stir us and shake us to the very core of our being, igniting within us a flame both warmly familiar and yet completely new and bold, sending our hearts and our thoughts spiraling upward toward new understandings and insights, then we can rest assured that our spiritual efforts of the past seven weeks have indeed borne fruit.
Torah is an unparalleled joy for all whose souls are nurtured by its words of instruction and revelation of truth. Dancing with Torah scrolls on Simchat Torah is but the new year's initial and outward expression of the sublime dance of Torah learning and guidance which will accompany us and guide throughout the upcoming year. May we merit to be always uplifted and and inspired by the holy words of Torah, each and every day, each and every moment.Chag Sameach and Shana Tova!
Temple TalkThere is no Temple Talk this week, due to the Sukkot holiday. Temple Talk will be back again next Tuesday, October 5th, in its usual time slot.
Temple Mount AliyaThe Temple Mount has remained open to Jews this Sukkot holiday, despite Arab rioting in the city of David. adjacent to the Mount, and hundreds of Jews, young and old, have taken advantage, ascending the Mount in honor of the annual pilgrimage festival. In a break from precedent the police allowed large groups to ascend, as can be witnessed by these photographs. Click here to view.
Queen HeleniQueen Heleni, Second Temple Patron, Returns to Israel: Traditionally, every day of the seven day Sukkot festival, we invite into our sukkot one of the seven ushpizin, (guests), Avraham, Yitzchak, Yaakov, Yosef, Moshe, Aharon and David. This year we have had the additional honor of hosting in Israel the much admired Queen Heleni, (in Hebrew, Heleni HaMalka), after a 137 year absence. Click here to learn more.
Temple Mount Update
As always, the Sukkkot holiday brings the Temple Mount to the forefront of the news. Click here for a Temple Mount update.
Wishing to all a joyful Simchat Torah and a good new year,
  Yitzchak Reuven
  The Temple Institute

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