Not Letting Ourselves Go

We are emerging from the most spiritually intense period of the year. Elul is behind us, as are Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkos and Simchas Torah.

We have renewed acceptance of Hashem as our King, received forgiveness for all our indiscretions, celebrated a Yom Tov that highlighted the Divine protection we can always count on, even in rickety, temporary dwellings, and expressed our joy at having been chosen to receive the Torah.

Where do we go from here? On the one hand, it is unrealistic to expect that we will be able to maintain the same level of spiritual intensity over the course of the entire year. On the other, we would be fools to let ourselves go, to drop everything and return to where we were nearly two months ago, at the end of Av.

We might start by contemplating what went into making the past few weeks such a spiritually uplifting experience, and what we must hold on to going forward.

Harav Eliyahu Dessler, zt”l, says that when we speak of the Book of Life and Book of Death being opened on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, and put away on Hoshana Rabbah, we are referring to two states of being. That just as the Book of Life is referring to the present, to those who are living, the Book of Death is referring to the present, to those who are “dead” because they are cut off from reality and attached to fantasy.

When we think of the dangers of technology — internet, cellphones and all the rest — we tend to focus on the impermissible sites, which have indeed ruined bachurim and destroyed families. But there is another danger, which applies even to sites that make it through the most stringent filters: They are a distraction. Hours are spent reading nonsense. Jewish minds are filled with silliness, gossip, values that are antithetical to Torah. We leave reality and connect to fantasy.

The past six weeks were special because we were more connected than ever to reality. More time was spent on contemplating our relationship with Hashem, on tefillah, on Selichos, on building and living in the sukkah. Less time was spent with technology and the distractions that disconnect us from Jewish reality.

We slept and ate in the sukkah, where the Shechinah was present and the computer was not. The Jewish neshamah was being fed what it needs to be healthy and sated, not the junk food that is served up in mega doses on the internet.

We have no choice but to leave the sukkah and return to our homes. Chol Hamoed is over and we have no choice but to return to work. But we do have a choice about whether we will resume old patterns, including wasting inordinate amounts of time reading nonsense that is harmful to our spiritual health (and which also constitutes gezel, when done at the workplace).

While we cannot maintain the same spiritual intensity of the past two months, we can hold on to some of the discipline, having seen how much better we felt because of it. At this moment, we can appreciate how inappropriate it is to turn on the radio to hear the news on the way to shul in the morning, or worse, to read the paper Shabbos morning before davening.

There is only one place in the Torah where we find a passuk that is surrounded by “parentheses.” It’s in Parashas Behaalos’cha, and it is the famous passuk, “Vayehi binso’a ha’aron …”

Rashi explains that the parentheses, actually two inverted nuns, are to indicate that the passuk does not belong there, according to the chronology of events. It was put there to separate between two consecutive calamities.

The Sifsei Chachamim asks: It is clear what the Jews did wrong following the passuk: They complained about the travel conditions, the nonstop pace (which was meant for their own benefit, to get them to Eretz Yisrael quicker). But in what way did they misbehave prior to the passuk? All it says is that they left Har Sinai.

He answers that there is a certain repetition in the pesukim that indicates that they did not just leave Har Sinai. They ran away like children running from school. They felt a need to get away from Har Sinai and all that it represented.

We must not leave this time of the year in the same way, as if running away from the opportunity for spiritual connection presented by the Yamim Tovim. Instead, we need to leave slowly, thoughtfully, with a commitment to stay connected to reality, to place ourselves in the Book of Life, even as we resume our daily routines.