The Jewish Year

Hanging on to The Yom Tov Experience

“Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened” is a particularly apt adage for this time of year. The sights and sounds of Tishrei—the house bustling with activity; children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, both biological offspring and those of our community we consider as such; family and friends from near and far; the memorable davening, learning, singing and dancing—are all slowly receding into the background. The house is now relatively quiet and in the process of being restored to some semblance of order. Despite my state of total exhaustion, I find myself wiping away tears from my eyes. They are a mixture of confronting the “necessary losses” of seeing everyone drive off to their respective lives (baruch Hashem!), gratitude, and the hope that Hashem will grace us with similar blessed opportunities in the future. Unquestionably, the challenge to all of us is to find a handle on our Yom Tov experience so we can hang on to the season’s inspirations.

Dr. Ari Kaz, a beloved friend of the family, shared a comment he saw in a sefer advising that when we pray the daily Shemoneh Esrei and say “Melech ozer u’moshia u’magein” (“O King, Helper, Savior and Shield”) we should associate “Melech” with Rosh Hashanah, the day on which we crown Hashem our King. “Ozer” corresponds to the Aseres Yemei Teshuvah, when He helps us repent. “Umoshia” represents Yom Kippur, when Heavenly forgiveness saves us from the penalty we might otherwise have incurred. And “magein” speaks to the Sukkos holiday, when the protection of Hashem’s love encompasses and embraces us.

Reciting these words with mindfulness will hopefully conjure up the proper images and feelings, and keep the gains of the recent uplifting Yomim Tovim alive and current. In addition to the formal celebration of the holidays, which was quite spectacular, what never ceases to move me deeply are the members of our kehillah, among whom are a fair number of baalei teshuvah. Joined by the impassioned voices of the veteran “bnei Torah,” the mispallelim shook the building until it seemed that the very walls trembled with excitement. I looked out over the expanse of several hundred people, who, despite their many challenges, soared spiritually in their ever-growing desire to connect with our Heavenly Parent. It was abundantly clear that regardless of the toll the human condition exacts from all of us, the driving motivation of klal Yisrael is the pursuit of spiritual excellence. I was brought to tears for the pain of their lives to which I am privy, and their undeniable quest to achieve meaning and purpose despite that pain. 

In one of his talks on Yom Tov, my husband, shlita, explained that Simchas Torah, typically understood as our rejoicing with the Torah, can also be seen as the Torah’s simchah in rejoicing with us. Especially in our time, he noted poignantly, against the backdrop of a culture and environment that is so toxic and antithetical to everything that is holy, isn’t the Torah delighted when we hold onto it tightly both literally and figuratively, with love, self-sacrifice and joy? Surely the Torah is proud of our unwavering allegiance to its study and practice.

Indeed, wouldn’t it be eager to be jubilant with us? Surah’leh, my nine-year-old granddaughter visiting from New York for the recent holidays, was sitting at the breakfast table one morning eating her cereal. Her mother, my daughter Ruchi, and I were engaged in a conversation in which the behavior of another one of my children came up for critical discussion. In the course of our dialogue, I offered a different perspective on the situation that exonerated my accused offspring. Unbeknownst to us, Surah’leh was taking in the exchange, and with a smile on her face, wise beyond her years, she commented almost inaudibly into her bowl, “Isn’t it amazing how a mother always tries to defend her children?” I have since realized that the truth of Surah’leh’s intuitive observation extends beyond mothers and mortal parents.

Our Heavenly Father, the Ribbono Shel Olam, unquestionably seeks to defend us, and, I am convinced, for good reason. When He looks down upon His faithful people and sees that despite our many lapses we continue to strive to live up to His expectations, He must certainly derive great nachas from a people so dedicated to rising above ordinary human limitations. As I look over what I have written, I realize I may have rambled on a bit. However, my essay represents an attempt to distill and articulate my feelings and to capture in retrospect a truly moving and meaningful Yom Tov season that came and went so rapidly, but whose inspiring imprint will hopefully endure for a long time to come.

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