I’m davening maariv, the evening prayer, immediately following the final moments of Yom Kippur. We’ve not broken the fast, we’ve not even done havdalah, but as I’m praying, all I can think of, why won’t someone close the freakin’ exit door?!
At my shul, the door of the beis midrash (sanctuary) leads to the hallway where children run, play, and shriek making concentration near impossible. It had been propped open as someone just left. Congregants around me have finished their shimonah esrei and to me it appears no one cares about my experience. But this is a test from Hashem and within minutes from the cleansing end of Neilah, I’ve already failed. I fail again after breaking the fast as I rush through bentching (after the meal bruchas) so I can go home and check my phone. Then I fail this morning when I sleep through my alarm, missing the early sharcharis service. My new year isn’t off to a great start.
My faith in myself is clearly shaken. Is this year going to be any different?
An Odd Time
This post Yom Kippur feeling is a little strange. We are closest to Hashem, with all our aviras (sins) gone and nothing to obstruct that relationship. But that’s a bit of a mindblow, so much responsibility! Can any of us handle it or hold on to it for very long? Then to add to that, we have four days between Yom Kippur and Succos. What are these days about? They aren’t the days of awe anymore, as we’re not saying Hashem is King or adding the inserts of the 10 days of teshuvah. Do we just go back to business as usual before we’re hit with another major festival?
There is a discussion in the Midrash about these very days. Referencing a passage in parshas Emor discussing the first days of Succos, the Rabbis note the following lines;
But on the fifteenth day of the seventh month… you shall celebrate Hashem’s festival for a seven day-period… You shall take for yourselves on the first day the fruit of the citron tree, the branches of the date palms… (and from there it further describes the lulav/esrog mitzvah.) Vayikra 23: 39-40
The Midrash is bothered. The passage already says the holiday starts on the 15th of the month. Why does it need to say, on the first day you should take for yourself the fruit of the tree? We already know what day to do it on! So the Midrash answers; rishon l’cheshbon avonot, this is the first day of accounting of sins.
According to this interpretation, the first day of Succos is the first day you start counting your sins? So what does that mean about our sins for these four days??????
Hashem has Faith in you. But do you even care?
Most years parshas Ha’azinu is read on the Shabbos between Yom Kippur and Succos. In it Moses sings a transcendent song on the day of his death to the Jewish people. It is considered one of 10 essential prophetic songs in all of Tanakh. Being composed of lyrical poetry, it isn’t the easiest thing to wrap your head around. However one line in particular, I think, speaks to these perplexing days.
אֵ֤ל אֱמוּנָה֙ וְאֵ֣ין עָ֔וֶל A God of faith without iniquity… (Devarim 32: 4)
A shiur by Rabbi Shmuel Gluck explains this to mean the following; from the Sifrei we learn from this passage, “God had faith in the world and created it.” God knows all our troubles, and challenges, and our yetzer hara, but has faith despite all of that we all can over come them and reach our potential.
Funny thing about faith. If you’ve got a terrible relationship with your parents and then they tell you they have faith in you, you probably don’t care very much. It might even anger you. What if you have a meh relationship with your parents? You’ll probably think, “you have to say that,” or “that’s nice,” and will quickly disregard it. But if you have a great relationship with your parents and they say they have faith in you? According to Rabbi Gluck, it’ll be a motivator and will increase your chance of success.
So when we hear that God has faith in us, depending on our relationship with Him, we have a similar reaction. But what does it mean that God has faith in us?
Imagine the following; Let’s say you’re going to return something to the store and you need to find the receipt. Now pretend you distinctly remember putting the receipt in your messy desk drawer. You dig and dig until finally you take out every scrap and knick knack until you find it. Now let’s say you only think you’ve put the receipt in the drawer but you’re not sure. You check a few times, but then move on to another room or even the garbage. Sooner or later you give up. But if you know it’s in the drawer you’ll search harder.
The point is, if we know our attempts are going to work, we’ll try harder. If we don’t think our efforts are going to work, we’re more likely to give up. When God tells us he has faith in us, he’s telling us we have it in us to succeed, the receipt is in the drawer. But depending on our relationship with God, how we hear that is like how we hear our parents telling us they have faith in us.
Riding Without the Training Wheels
These first days after Yom Kippur are intense, it’s like riding a bike without training wheels for the first time. We need a little time for adjustment. So because of that, the Midrash says even though you may have fallen off a few times since Yom Kippur, Hashem’s not really going to count it until the first day of Succos. Don’t get me wrong, aveiras aren’t freebees. But getting back to Yom Kippur levels is much easier right now. Because ultimately He has faith that you can handle this new level of kedusha for the long haul. The only question is, do you have a good enough relationship with Him to believe it?
This post is dedicated to the refuah shlema of Yitzchok Aaron ben Golda Feiga, a 4 year old boy who was hit by a car in Boro Park on Yom Kippur. Please keep him in your prayers for healing.