Sunday, October 3, 2010

Shmini Atzeres/Simchas Torah 5771 Retrospective I

What a chag!

For starters, this was the first time we ever stayed home for a chag, and I must say, I found it to be very enjoyable. My wife as usual really outdid herself and everything ran smoothly, and there is just something about being in your own home rather than transplanting yourself into another's - no matter how comfortable you feel in their home.

I had several interesting/uplifting experiences and observations over the course of the three day festivities that I'd like to share.

My family's minhag (custom) follows that of the Nusach Sefard/Chassidic way: on the first night of the chag, we no longer eat in the succah, and we have a truncated version of the hakafot. The next day, we make kiddush in the succah and return to the house for the rest of the meal. Where I live, there aren't many shuls that follow that minhag (i.e. the hakafot on the first night). I asked around, and someone told me about one shul nearby that was having a speedy version on the first night. I ran home to check in with my wife before going, just to make sure that all was good at the homestead. Apparently, the little ones were getting restless and we agreed that it would be wiser to take care of them and I would figure out what to do after we ate the seudah.

Luckily, I had anticipated this possible issue and had spoken to the rabbi of the shul where I pray. He agreed to show me where the keys to the Aron Kodesh (holy Ark, where the Torah scrolls are kept) were hidden in case I needed to return and do the hakafot there.

After the seudah, I let myself into the shul, where it was pitch black, save for the ner tamid (everlasting flame; usually a lamp suspended in front of the Aron) and an emergency light shining on the Aron.

Donning a tallit, I slowly chanted Atah Horaita LoDa'at as I unlocked the Aron and removed one of the smaller Torah scrolls, decked in the white mantle designed for the High Holy Days. Despite its size, the Torah was heavy, causing me to clutch it to my body that much tighter.

With care and deliberation, I proceeded through the slightly shorter version of the hakafot designated for Shmini Atzeret. While the initial feeling was awkward - singing aloud in an empty, darkened sanctuary, with vaulted ceilings that made my lone voice echo throughout the room - I soon began to get into it, losing sense of my surroundings.

The Torah of HaShem is perfect... I circled the bimah (altar), concentrating on attaching myself to Avraham Avinu (the patriarch Abraham) and resolving to rectify myself in the aspect of loving-kindness...

The testimony of HaShem is trustworthy... singing the niggun Simcha (joyous melody) of the Lubavitch Chassidim; in emulation of the characteristic of Yitzchak Avinu (the patriarch Isaac) I begged God to help me be strong in my service to Him, introducing a structured, systematic element to my service that would enhance it...

The orders of HaShem are upright...The Breslov "Ivdu es HaShem b'Simcha" (serve God with Joy) seemed an appropriate choice for Yaakov Avinu's (Jacob) hakafah - seeking harmony and shleimut (completion) in every aspect of Judaism no matter what the occasion calls for requires a healthy dosage of Joy ...

The command of HaShem is clear... I had an opportunity to use a niggun I learned that is reputedly one composed by Reb Kalonymos Kalman; from one shepherd to another, it felt right to sing it by Moshe Rabbeinu's hakafah...

The fear of HaShem is pure...I prayed to be considered one of the students of Aharon HaKohen (the High Priest Aaron) - loving peace and pursuing it, with my family, friends, and colleagues. Rebbe Shlomo's (technically Breslov's) Oz V'Hadar kept my feet moving on this one, though the time was certainly getting late, and my arms were getting heavier...

The judgments of HaShem are true...Picking up the tempo with a Bluzhever niggun, I focused on Yosef HaTzaddik's (Joseph the Righteous) resilience in the face of the most powerful, lurid of temptations - coupled with rock solid faith, it forms the foundation for living a lifestyle true to HaShem and His Torah design. If only I could learn from him when faced with my own obstacles!

They are more desirable than gold...Dovid HaMelech (King David) - the sweet singer of Israel, who described himself with the words "And prayer," whose characteristic is the most pertinent one today, in this generation preceding the redemption. I try to find personal meaning in his words every day, and strive to connect to the thousands of words that we have incorporated into our daily prayers that were coaxed from his heartstrings. With the song "David, king of Israel, is alive and everlasting" on my lips, I asked God how long will it be before we witness the redemption, and will I be among those who will merit to see it?

What an experience! Those hakafot were truly transcendent, and when I was finished, my clothes were soaked through. Spent, I put the Torah away, locked up, and went home - dancing all the way.

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