Ecclesiastes – Days of Joy

Moshe Kempinski – from Shorashim Shop (in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City in Jerusalem

“Introspection on the High Holydays reveals the fissures and the cracks; joy on Sukkot enables the healing and the growth.

We have entered into and experienced the month of Tishrei as a period of great soul searching and introspection. We have hopefully sensed how the purifying fire of the Day of Atonement has cleansed the very vessels of our souls.

The vessels are pure but nevertheless are broken from the experience. Only spiritual joy can rejuvenate and repair the broken in spirit.

Introspection reveals the fissures and the cracks; joy enables the healing and the growth.

“Seven days shall you keep a feast unto HaShem your God in the place which HaShem shall choose; because HaShem your G-d shall bless you in all your increase, and in all the work of your hands, and you shall be altogether joyful [VeHayitem Ach Sameach].”

How can one be commanded to be joyful? How can one walk out from under the burden of a renewed awareness of our limitations and be joyful? How can one attain joy when, as a people, our history is so replete with events that are the antitheses of joy?

 Clearly being given the opportunity to fulfill the will of our Divine beloved is a source of great joy. We are not being commanded to be joyful as much as we are being told a fact. We will be joyful.

 That is clear as one wanders through the streets and watch the people of this land buying the four species of the holiday. They are joyful because they have been given the opportunity to bring a gift to their beloved Creator.

 Yet it is during this holiday we will read the cynical book of Kohelet or Ecclesiastes. What must we learn from that.

 Each of the Jewish festivals is characterized by the reading of one of the Biblical scrolls. On Pesach(Passover), we read Shir Hashirim/Song Of Songs. During Shavuot, the book of Ruth is read. On Sukkot, we read Kohelet/Ecclesiastes.

 The latter is clearly a book characterized by great sobriety and skepticism. The first words of Kohelet, “havel havelim ha-kol hevel, futility of futilities, everything is futile,” imply that no matter what Man does, his efforts will always prove to be in vain.

 The word hevel/futile appears 37 times throughout the book.

 There are those who teach that since this period of Sukkot falls during the time of the great harvest, a time of great joy, the book of Kohelet is seen as a tool for tempering and moderation.

There are others who see the book of Kohelet as a work infused with optimism and happiness. In the Yalkut Shimoni we read: “R. Yonathan said, first Shir Hashirim (Song of Songs) was composed, followed by Mishlei (Proverbs) and then Kohelet. Shir Hashirim represents youthful optimism and rejoicing. Mishlei, written later in King Solomon’s life, represents the acquired experience of middle age. The book of Kohelet expresses the acquired wisdom of old age.”

This helps to understand a verse which seems to epitomize cynical futility:

“The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of joy.” ( Ecclesiastes 7:4

Both the medieval commentators, Rashi and Ibn-Ezra, explain the verse is teaching us that the truly wise are always aware of the fact that they are mortal and that their time is finite.

Fools dance through life as if they have been gifted with immortality. The wise understand, even in the midst of joy, there is finiteness to life.This makes their joy more profound than fools.

In his book, Mei HaShiloach, the Izhbitzer Rebbe (1800-1854) relates that, in his wiser years, King Solomon, speaks of the futility of some of life’s pursuits and mortality as a tool to help individuals find the true source of joy in this world.

“The end of the matter, when all has been heard, is fear G-d and keep His commandments, for that is the whole duty of man.”

When all is said and done, we are bidden to connect to the infinite purpose of creation and rise above the trivial. Therein lies the true joy of this festival and of life in its entirety.

The sukkah itself is built for a mere seven days, yet no effort is neglected in order to decorate it and beautify it. Life is similar to the sukkah.

Our time is limited, so spare no effort to fill it with beauty and holiness.”

( excerpted from Moshe Kempinski’s new book “ Accessing Inner Joy, the biblical Festivals)

or see at http://www.facebook.com/notes/shorashim-shop/ecclesiastes-days-of-joy/10152152639985603 

The Day of Atonement and the bottom line

If you would like the background material for our Podcast on Yom Kippur, it is now available as a PDF here  at http://www.circumcisedheart.info

Here’s a great quote to close off Yom Kippur and look forward to another great year.

”The bottom line (for Yom Kippur)?

The spiritual rewards reaped from a spiritual perspective far outweigh the benefits seductively paraded before us in the advertisements that daily bombard us with their false and alluring promises.

That is why we so desperately need Yom Kippur to help us rearrange our priorities. It is a day when we demonstrate that we can master our physical needs. We choose prayer over food. We choose communion with God over making more money. We do not wear our jewelry and our adornments so that no one need envy the possessions of others. We concentrate not on the things we covet that don’t belong to us but on the blessings God has already granted to us that could give us so much joy if we only fully appreciated them.

And that’s why Yom Kippur, with all of its deprivations, helps to teach us the real meaning of happiness and contentment.”  –        from http://www.aish.com/h/hh/yom-kippur/theme/102325494.html

I pray that you experienced a Yom Kippur where you were able to in some ways ‘afflict your soul’ and gain a greater spiritual perspective. I hope and pray that your ‘spiritual heart’ was given priority over your ‘fleshly heart’ (Yetzer HaTov vs Yetser HaRa), so that you could more fully experience the holiness of this day.

I reflected with both deep thanks and some sense of sadness that last year in 2011 I had spent Yom Kippur at the Kotel, the Western Wall in Jerusalem. What an awesome day of prayer it had been! Today, a year later I was back in Brisbane and missing standing on the Temple Mount. If you have not experienced that blessing of being in Israel and Jersusalem, especially at one of the ‘appointed times’; for one of the Feasts of Adonai, I pray that it may be fulfilled for you ‘next year in Jerusalem’!

Shalom! Paul

Super-Heroes: Heartbreak for Moses!

In this weeks Torah Portion (Vayelech – Deut 31:1-30), we read about Moses last day and how the Almighty tells Moses that he is about to die, after the last 40 years leading the Nation of Israel in the desert.

God calls both Moses and Joshua into the Tent of Meeting (where His presence was most revealed; most real and ‘physical’ or felt). Along with ‘passing the baton’ to Joshua and encouraging Joshua as the new leader of His People, God informs Moses that the people will fail God (for a time) and God will hide His face from them!

Here is what He shared:

Deut 31:

“15 ADONAI appeared in the tent in a column of cloud; the column of cloud stood above the entrance to the tent.

16 ADONAI said to Moshe,

“You are about to sleep with your ancestors. But this people will get up and offer themselves as prostitutes to the foreign gods of the land where they are going. When they are with those gods, they will abandon me and break my covenant which I have made with them.

17 Then my anger will flare up, and I will abandon them and hide my face from them. They will be devoured, and many calamities and troubles will come upon them. Then they will ask, ‘Haven’t these calamities come upon us because our God isn’t here with us?’

18 But I will be hiding my face from them because of all the evil they will have done in turning to other gods.

19 “Therefore, write this song for yourselves, and teach it to the people of Isra’el. Have them learn it by heart, so that this song can be a witness for me against the people of Isra’el.

20 For when I have brought them into the land I swore to their ancestors, flowing with milk and honey; and they have eaten their fill, grown fat and turned to other gods, serving them and despising me, and broken my covenant;

21 then, after many calamities and troubles have come upon them, this song will testify before them as a witness, because their descendants will still be reciting it and will not have forgotten it. For I know how they think even now, even before I have brought them into the land about which I swore.”

The song that Moses writes for the people ends in hope (see Deuteronomy 32), with

“43 Sing out, you nations, about his people! For he will avenge the blood of his servants. He will render vengeance to his adversaries and make atonement for the land of his people.”

The Tanakh of course, shares in many places that despite all their wrongs and their turning away, HaShem will bring His People back into the Land of Israel, for His Name’s sake! See my article ‘Israel: Return in Belief or Unbelief’ (at www.circumcisedheart.info) for some of the evidence for this.

What I wanted to touch on though was Moses heartache!

Imagine, he has led the Jewish people out of Egypt; they have seen many miracles on a daily basis; they, this 2 million people, have ‘seen’ the Almighty in a way that no-one else has, and yet, after his forty years of leading them, Moses is told that they will turn their back on the Almighty!

And Moses can’t do anything about it; he is about to die; to ‘sleep’ with his ancestors!

How heart-broken must he have been; how despairing! He had been like a father to his brethren; he had devoted everything to them; he had rejected a royal life for them; he had sacrificed much and here he is being told in a sense that he has failed! Yes, he knew that at the great Day of Judgment; the People of Israel would be restored and all the prophecies to Abraham fulfilled, but what comfort now; in this his final moments.

Moses was a super-hero! And yet, in a sense HaShem tells him he has failed! Was it worth it?

Do you feel for Moses; do you empathize with him; when you have given your all and it appears you have failed? Evil still abounds! Man still hates his brother! What can we do?!

Let us turn to the Almighty, the King of the Universe and acknowledge we need Him; we need His strength; His comfort; His mercy and justice! His Messiah! His great Day; the Day of Judgment; the Day of Atonement; the Day of cleansing!

From Awe to Atonement

From Unity (through Yom Teruah) comes strength of mind;

from Strength, peace of mind;

from Peace, deep introspection,

from Introspection comes recognition of wrongs committed;

from  Recognition comes repentance (turning back to HaShem).

Repentance seeks forgiveness and,

Forgiveness brings Atonement and,

stays Judgement (Yom Kippur – the Day of Atonement)!

You have 10 Days – choose Life!

“We shall ascribe holiness to this day. For it is awesome and terrible.

Your kingship is exalted upon it. Your throne is established in mercy.

You are enthroned upon it in truth. In truth You are the judge,

The exhorter, the allknowing, the witness, He who inscribes and seals,

Remembering all that is forgotten. You open the book of remembrance

Which proclaims itself, And the seal of each person is there.

The great shofar is sounded, A still small voice is heard.

The angels are dismayed, They are seized by fear and trembling

As they proclaim: Behold the Day of Judgment!

For all the hosts of heaven are brought for judgment.

They shall not be guiltless in Your eyes

And all creatures shall parade before You as a troop.

As a shepherd herds his flock, Causing his sheep to pass beneath his staff,

So do You cause to pass, count, and record, Visiting the souls of all living,

Decreeing the length of their days, Inscribing their judgment…”

  • From the great  Unetanah Tokef prayer

King David wrote:

1. O Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory above the heavens.

2 Out of the mouth of babies and infants,
you have established strength because of your foes,
to still the enemy and the avenger.

3 When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,

4 what is man that you are mindful of him,
and the son of man that you care for him?

5 Yet you have made him a little lower than God
and crowned him with glory and honor.

6 You have given him dominion over the works of your hands;
you have put all things under his feet,

7 all sheep and oxen,
and also the beasts of the field,

8  the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea,
whatever passes along the paths of the seas.

9  O Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
(Psalm 8)

In these Days of Awe, we should reflect not only on the awesome majesty of the Creator and King of the Universe, but also on the amazing role that he gave to us, to human beings made in His image. He is a personal God; He is always in our Presence; He is always communicating with us!

In fact, as we learn from Ps 19, He is speaking to us through His Creation every day and night!

1 The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours out speech,  and night to night reveals knowledge.

Ps 19 also tells us that:

8  The Torah of Adonai is perfect, 
restoring the inner person.
The instruction of Adonai is sure,
making wise the thoughtless.

9  The precepts of Adonai are right, 
rejoicing the heart.
The mitzvah of Adonai is pure,
enlightening the eyes.

10 The fear of Adonai is clean,
enduring forever.
The rulings of Adonai are true,
they are righteous altogether,

11  more desirable than gold,
than much fine gold,
also sweeter than honey
or drippings from the honeycomb. …

15  May the words of my mouth 
and the thoughts of my heart
be acceptable in your presence,
Adonai, my Rock and Redeemer!

Let us seek the Almighty in these days leading to the great Day of Judgment and Atonement. May we fully turn back to our King and may we be given life so that we can also enter in the Appointed Time of Sukkot, the Marriage Supper of Heaven!

Aubrey and I will be speaking on Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) in our next Podcast. If you haven’t listened to Parts 1 and 2 on Yom Teruah (the Day of Trumpets), you can hear it here.