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October 20, 1989 - Image 47

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1989-10-20

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WNAI DAVID INSTITUTE FOR ADULT EDUCATION
FALL SEMESTER, 1989

The Shortest Line
Betwen A Jew And God

RABBI SHLOMO RISKIN

Special to The Jewish News

T

he most mysterious
festival of the Jewish
year is Shemini
Atzeret, the Eighth
Assembly. In the Torah, we
hear very little about it and,
though a distinct festival, it
is different from the three
major festivals — Pesach,
Sukkot and Shavuot —
because its raison d'etre is
not linked to agricultural or
historical phenomena.
"The eighth day is a sacred
holiday to you when you
shall bring a fire offering to
God; it is a day of solemn
assembly" we read in
Leviticus 23:36. In Numbers,
the Torah declares, "The
eighth day shall be a time of
solemn assembly for you."
Not until Deuteronomy do
we extrapolate the deeper
significance of this festival
from a seemingly extra
word.
"Celebrate to God your
Lord for seven days, so that
you will be altogether joyous
(Deut. 16:15). The italicized

Shemini Atzeret
Yizkor

words are a translation of
vehayita ach sameach, the
word ach reinforcing one's
potential for joyousness.
Rashi summarizes the
talmudic discussion that the
word achcomes to emphasize
the joy of the final day,
Shemini Atzeret.
Before trying to under-
stand the idea of a day
dedicated to joy, I should
note that the year is compos-
ed of two festive cycles:
Shavuot, in the spring, ends
one. Shemini Atzeret, in the
fall, ends the other.
Just as ShavuOt is the
culmination of Passover, it
would seem that Shemini
Atzeret ends the long season
of serious soul-searching
that reaches a crescendo on
the Day of Atonement.
Afterward, we celebrate our
reprieve by rejoining the
physical world during
Sukkot. But what do we
make of this Eighth Day
when we depart from the
sukkah and put aside the
four species? A day of
assembly? Of joy? How does
this day focus the sweep of
the last 50 days in Elul and

Shlomo Riskin is rabbi of
Efrat in Gush Etzion.

Tishrei, and does it parallel
the fulfillment Shavuot br-
ings to Passover after the
counting of 49 days?
Between the shofar blast of
Rosh Hashanah and Sukkot,
we realize that a day of
judgement implies a judge.
The realization that it. is God
who judges this world is the
greatest gift to humanity. It
means our suffering is not in
vain.
The Days of Awe may run
havoc with our emotions, but
fear and trembling are a
small price for growing
awareness that there is pur-
pose to this chaos, that there
is a director behind the
rhythm of the universe.
Knowing this, we learn to
•bear suffering. But the per-
son with no hope, claiming
that life, in the end, will
prove futile, at best a
biological mutation, at worst
a heap of dust and ashes,
may want to give up the
struggle even before the
journey starts.
On Shemini Atzeret, we
reach a new plateau of joy
simply because there is a
God in this world, and our
faith approaches the level
carted out in the prayer of
Rebbe Levi Yitchak of Ber-
ditchev, who wept that he
could accept his suffering as
long as he knew that the suf-
fering came from God.
Instead of fear, we feel love
for the King of the Universe.
Invariably, we want to come
closer to God, to learn more
about His ways and what He
wants from us. This we find
in the Torah: God and His
Torah are one because the
Torah is God's revelation of
His will to us. The Torah is
the shortest line between a
Jew and God.
Certainly, it is not an easy
Torah to keep. There are
many commandments,
minute details, all kinds of
complicated passages, pro-
cedures and purposes.
Nonetheless, our joy in it is
boundless because God's
Torah is in our possession.
While Christianity teaches
one can be saved only
through faith in a crucified
human being — making the
commandments superfluous
— Judaism always has ven-
erated actions, good deeds
and keeping the law.
Judaism believes that the -
cmmandments of the Torah
were given to us because of
our potential to redeem
ourselves. In effect, God
knows why we may stumble,
but in the end we will walk.

• Lectures on vital contemporary issues by Rabbi Morton F. Yolkut
• Discussion period to follow each lecture
• Free to members and non-members
• Come and bring your friends for a stimulating evening in a
relaxed atmosphere
Refreshments following the lecture

TUESDAY EVENINGS
OCTOBER 24 — NOVEMBER 14

LECTURE SERIES

8 15 9:30 P.M

MYSTICISM IN THE JEWISH TRADITION

OCTOBER 24 — MYSTICISM, CULTS AND OUR JEWISH YOUTH
OCTOBER 31
JUDAISM AND ASTROLOGY: ARE THEY
COMPATIBLE?
NOVEMBER 7
HOW JEWISH ARE JEWISH SUPERSTITIONS?
NOVEMBER 14 — JEWISH NAMES AND JEWISH ROOTS

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THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS

47

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