As the streets of Colorado are filled with significant precipitation, we approach the month of Adar 1 with anticipation. But this year we have to wait six weeks instead of two weeks till Purim. What do you do while you are waiting for the next big Jewish holiday? The secular world seems to always be waiting for the next big fix- similar in the Jewish world. (In fact I just read an article in Tablet comparing Super Bowl celebrations to Jewish holidays!) But there is a vast difference. First of all, there is not, or should not be, a primacy of commercial markers to define the value of the next holiday. Most importantly, life in between festivals is not just dead time. In fact, some people’s lives are filled with so many positive actions that it is sometimes challenging to ‘brake’ for holidays, especially once a week for Shabbat.
What is the solution to a happy and fulfilling Jewish life, while you are waiting around for the next memorable moment? It is certainly not ignoring everyday life as you prepare for the next ‘high-light’ like before Pesach where Jewish homes are in a tizzy. It is the realization that every minute can be an opportunity for mitzvah-meaning connection-, whether in deed, word, and even thought.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe once gave a seemingly radical talk about the Talmudic quote that Mitzvot will be nullified in the future. Doesn’t this conflict with the statement that the Torah we have will not be changed? He resolved the contradiction by explaining that there will in the future not be a need for an external commandment, because all Israel and eventually the world will be internally aligned with the Divine Will. From this perspective, he added, women and children who are exempt from mitzvot are on a higher level even in our times, because they are more naturally in tune with G-d’s desire.
With these thoughts in mind, we may be able to alleviate the anxiety and frustration that comes from a feeling of disconnection. One contrasting example comes to mind. There are many books, stories, movies, etc. that depict heroic moments in people’s lives. However, very often, the ‘ordinary’ times of these same people can feel very boring and even depressing. They have no continually greater purpose to give meaning to their lives. I remember reading one of my favorite books and films-Seabiscuit, where three people- and one horse- who all seemed to be failures, had their great moment and worked together magnificently to bring about that stunning win. But their lives after that moment were anti-climactic to say the least. And it was because they had nothing on a daily basis to keep them feeling fulfilled. A retired horse may justifiably be put out to pasture, but a living human being?
One of the Hebrew words that mean wait is ‘shomer.’ Most people thing that Shomer means ‘keep’ as Jon Goodman’s outburst in the Big Lebowski, ‘I’m ———SHOMER SHABBOS! But in the Torah the meaning of ‘waiting’ can lend a deeper perspective to the word. Some examples: When Adam and Chava were banished from the Garden of Eden, G-d placed at the entrance to the garden, ‘A flaming sword to SHOMER the path to the garden.’ Most people think that means to watch the entrance from break ins, but Rabbi SR Hirsh, based on the meaning of wait and protect, interprets the verse to imply, ‘to protect or guard the way back into the garden! ‘
Later in the Torah, also with a very different import depending on the meaning, we find the root Shamar, in the verse, “His father SHAMAR the matter.” This is referring to Yosef’s dreams where the meaning of Shamar can either be that Jacob the father ‘kept it to himself’ or ‘waited to see how/when the matter would be realized. Actually, if you think more about it, the two meanings are related. For example, when Jacob ‘guarded the matter,’ he not only kept it to himself, but waited for the dream to come to fruition.
Returning to the Shabbat idea, the implication would then be, not just that we keep Shabbat when it arrives, but that we anticipate its coming for the entire week. Big distinction! If we are only keeping Shabbat on the day itself, then majority rules and the six more materially focused days may overpower even the most intensely spent Shabbat. But if each day- as indeed each day’s psalm for the week begins with the phrase-‘ today is the xth day toward Shabbat’- then we live continually in a Shabbat consciousness.
The Berditchiver Rebbe, the Kedushat Levi, has a teaching that stresses this difference. Even Moshe makes a mistake in the desert when he does not tell the Israelites that Shabbat is coming, during the days when the manna began falling. The Torah relates, (Exodus 16:28) “How long will you refuse to SHOMER my mitzvot and teachings (Torot)?” The Rebbe refers us to an earlier comment of Rashi on verse 22: ‘All the leaders of the congregation came and told Moshe…”Rashi comments, “Moshe did not tell them the portion of Shabbat that he was commanded to relate to them, until they asked him, (and he replied) ‘this is the matter that G-d spoke that I was commanded to speak to you.’ Therefore the verse expresses his punishment by the words ‘How long do will you refuse…’ and he was not left out of this group.
The Berditchiver asks, ‘what would have been the purpose of telling them beforehand about Shabbat?’ There was nothing they could do differently during the preceding week. He explains that every mitzvah requires a preparation beforehand, in order to perform it with holiness and purity. This is the reason for the prayer: ‘For the sake of the unity of the Holy blessed one and his Shechina’…This preparation reveals the consciousness of the person’s love for the mitzvah, and that they are longing and joyous to fulfill it. Then when the mitzvah is completed, the love is fully entrenched in his heart and there is no room for blemish and unholy motives…and this is especially true of Shabbat. Therefore in the case of the desert, since Moshe didn’t tell the Israelites about Shabbat till Friday, they lacked a week of building up anticipation and therefore there was room for desecration.
The Kedushat Levi also brings the focus on the word ‘L’SHMOR,’ and relates it to the above quoted verse, “his father Shomar the matter.’ His point therefore for including Moshe in the reprimand, is to stress that if Moshe would have told them about Shabbat in the beginning of the week, their anticipation and enthusiasm would have created a kind of force field where negativity, apathy, neglect, etc. would have had no way to penetrate. So Moshe was partially responsible for the ‘leak in the field.’
Another Jewish example of the advantage of what some new agers call ‘pre-paving’ is the context of Sukkot. The Torah refers to the beginning of Sukkot with the expression…’Bayom Ha’Rishon- on the first day.’ Rashi explains the term ‘Yom Rishon’ to mean, ‘Rishon L’cheshbon Aveirot,’ the first of calculation of sin.’ The sages explain that though Yom Kippur was four days before Sukkot, and transgressions may have theoretically been committed, since the Jewish people were so pre-occupied with the mitzvot of Sukkot, they were exempt from even being suspected of sins. Again, their joy and anticipation and efforts beforehand kind of created a field where negativity was less likely to penetrate.
In addition, when it came to the building of the tabernacle that we are reading about in the following weeks’ Torah portions, the rabbis praise the preparations even more than the actual accomplishment. Similarly as Pesach approaches, the ‘shmira’ of vast cleaning and preparing the matza ‘shmura’- the guarded, or as we have been translating , the ‘anticipated matza’, is praised beyond measure. Furthermore, the first night of Pesach itself is called, ‘Leil Shimurim,’ a night of watching. Some have the custom on that night to leave the door unlocked and to say only the first paragraph of Shema before bedtime. In fact, to complete the picture of the ‘Shalosh Regalim,’ the three pilgrimage festivals, how do we prepare for Shavuot? We count and contemplate a 49 day period of self-reflection and readiness for receiving the Torah anew!
A prominent Hassidic Rebbe used to say, ‘All my life I am preparing to die.’ This was not a morbid attitude. On the contrary, I think he was saying that life is about the constant satisfaction that can come with a life where each achievement is a preparation for a higher objective. Even at the time of death, before burial when the close relatives themselves are so removed from normal life that they are exempt from positive mitzvot, the body of the deceased is continually watched in a process called, ‘Shmira’! Is it not possible that the use of ‘Shmira’ here also implies anticipating the time of ‘Techiyat Ha’meitim,’ revival of the dead? Thus even in times of greatest loss, we look to rebirth!
We may not feel open happiness at every step of the way of our life’s journey, but to know we are on that road to the Holy of Holies can keep us going even in the dark times. As the Mezritcher Maggid framed it, life is a spiral staircase; at each turn you may not see the top, but you can keep climbing because you know you are going up. May we all be true ‘Shomrim,’ keepers of the faith, in the most expanded and joyous sense, especially in this year of double Adar. In fact, the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, the code of Jewish law, ends with the directive of celebrating even on ‘Purim Katan,’ the little Purim of the first Adar, and reminds us, ‘A good heart continually feasts.’ May we merit living to see the greatest feast of all, at the celebration of the arrival of Mashiach!