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Passion

The practice in our shul is to sing Anim Zemiros at the conclusion of the Shabbos Musaf service. Typically, a young person leads the congregation in a responsive rendition, in the melody of his choice. These young voices ringing out with the vitality of youth and innocence warm our hearts, and on a deeper level infuse us with hope for the future. This past Yom Tov our grandson Shabse was home from yeshivah. Among his many other outstanding qualities is a beautiful singing voice. To my delight and that of the entire shul, Shabse led us in the singing of Anim Zemiros. The tune he chose was the niggun of my father’s mitzvah tantz. The memories triggered by this nostalgic melody transported me back many years. As I envisioned the band striking up the song, I saw my father’s venerable, magical presence approaching us, his daughters, and later on his granddaughters, to engage us in that exalted “dance of mitzvah.” Throughout his life, what set my father apart and made everything he did so memorable was that he invested everything he did with passion, with his heart and soul. There was nothing equivocal about him, whether in addressing huge audiences with his magnificent oratorical skills or in his private interactions. It has been almost 25 years since his passing, yet those who encountered him insist they still feel his extraordinary impact. At the beginning of Parshas Behaalosecha, Rashi cites an interesting interaction between Hashem and Aharon Hakohen.

Upon perceiving Aharon’s dismay that neither he nor his tribe, the Levites, were accorded a role in the dedication of the Mishkan commensurate with that of the Nesiim of the other tribes, Hashem reaches out to comfort him. “Chayecha,” Hashem tells him. “Your role is greater than theirs in that you and your descendants will have the mitzvah of preparing and lighting the Menorah.” The commentaries explain that the primacy of this function over the other rites rests in the fact that even after the destruction of the two Batei Mikdash, lighting the Chanukah Menorah would remain a vibrant part of the Jewish people’s connection to the Holy Temple. My husband, shlita, has noted that the word “chayecha,” which opens Hashem’s conversation with Aharon and is translated literally as “by your life,” is an idiom, generally taken to mean “I promise you.” However, there is also an interpretation found in our holy sefarim that it is meant literally, in the sense that Hashem said, “Since your pain is so deep that it touches the very essence of your life, you have earned the privilege of lighting the Menorah in the Mishkan and Beis Hamikdash and even afterward, when Israel will still have the Chanukah lights in your merit.” Because Aharon invested so much of his passion and life force (“chayecha”) in his desire to serve Hashem, the lighting of the Menorah would have perpetuity, escorting him and his generations throughout history along with the rest of the Jewish nation. Indeed, this leads to a logical question: What generates a passionate response in our own lives? What excites us to the point that our “life” is virtually on the line? What do we consider to be so all-consuming and essential that it touches our very being? For some, it may unfortunately be business concerns that are front and center in their daily existence.

Others may be preoccupied with entertainment, recreation and having fun. The one thing that is incontrovertible is that our future generations will be impacted by whatever has the quality of “chayecha” as its momentum.  Consider Yitzchak, a successful businessman in our community who became observant later in life. This was a person determined to “catch up.” Toward this end, he spent all of his spare time and vacationed annually in Lakewood, under the tutelage of yungeleit he paid to learn Torah with him. On a regular basis, day in and day out, he woke up in the predawn hours to learn the sacred texts, and after work he followed up with more learning. Indeed, he became the living paradigm of our Sages’ comment that “nothing stands in the way of one’s will.” Today, many years later, Yitzchak’s family consists of talmidei chachamim, ehrliche sons and daughters who are unquestionably the result of his passionate dedication to Torah, which drove and continues to drive his life.  To me and my family, my siblings and their children, my father represented a trail blazed by “chayecha”—the investment of one’s entire being in that which constitutes true “life” and makes it worthwhile, cogent and coherent: avodas Hashem with fervor. The example of Aharon Hakohen and the Menorah’s lights remind us that a wishy-washy approach to holiness is not what will ultimately usher in the redemption with Mashiach. Only “chayecha,” living a purpose-driven life with zeal and passion, will get us to the long-awaited finish line.

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