Elul / Rosh Hashanah
And Straight Again!
By Rabbi Label Lam
I stumbled upon a list of aphorisms and one-liners from one of the premier
Baalei Musar-Masters of Ethical Teachings, Rabbi Simcha Zissel Ziv, also
known as the Alter from Kelm. One phrase made me chuckle at first but I
realized it wasn’t and couldn’t be a joke so I highlighted it and parked
it in a file entitled, “more thought required”. The statement goes as
follows: “Torah is divided into three portions; 1) Simplicity 2)
Complexity 3) Simplicity!” That’s it! Get it!? Which one of these is not
like the other? Two of the three are exactly the same! What are and why
are there three parts when only two different ones are listed?
A model for explanation may be found in the Rosh Chodesh Bentching, when
prior to each new month we pause in synagogue to recite some prayers of
hope. Amongst the handful of items we cry out for is that this month
should be filled with: “fear of heaven”, and that it contain wealth and
honor, and not have embarrassment and shame, and then at the end of the
list again we ask for “fear of heaven”. Twice! Why is it mentioned twice
on the same short list? The answer is given that there is a “fear of
heaven” that comes before wealth and honor and before embarrassment and
shame and there’s another brand of “fear of heaven” that comes after the
experience of wealth and honor and embarrassment and shame.
We find a similar pattern by the blowing of the Shofar. In order to have
fulfilled the Mitzvah of the day one has to have heard a longish straight
sound and some combo of broken sounds followed by a straight sound again.
The pattern is straight-broken-straight! Perhaps this is a key to
unlocking the code of the Shofar’s simple and not so simple message.
Every good thing in life begins with an almost naïve and yet beautiful
simplicity. A child looks at his parents at first like the sun and the
moon. His introduction to the Aleph and Beis are tinged with wonder and
honey. A bride and groom stand as celebrities posing for pictures and
generating song and dance wherever they go.
All those pictures and memories are purposefully preserved and remain on
the mantelpiece of our minds. So too our relationship with HASHEM begins,
as a New Year, bathed in hope and idealism.
By the second week of school the sharpened number two pencil points are
dulled and the knapsack is already lined with peanut butter and lost notes
home from the teacher. After a period of time the awareness of ever
emerging complexities begin to dominate the brain. The ocean that looked
so pristine and inviting on the travel brochure grows darker and more
dangerous as we wade deeper into the reality of the scene. The mother and
father are not so perfect. The Rebbe’s halo has a stain. The Torah is hard
to understand. Those relationships that seemed so natural at first require
real work and commitment to maintain and to avoid going insane. “What’s
going on here? Is this some kind of bad joke?” one may wonder. Welcome to
the realm of the complex!
If one stalls at this point, the lingering sense of frustration may yield
to disappointment, disillusionment, and ultimately terminal cynicism and
depression. In that place one cannot survive long, so there are only two
choices. One natural approach is to drift backwards to the world of the
childish, to “never-never land”, where all forms of escapism dominate
However, when the movie is over and the thrill is gone the complex
realities of life are still there staring even more intensely.
The only healthy approach and admittedly the more difficult, is the one
the Shofar urges desperately. Don’t stop moving! Live with hopeful
anticipation of a mature simplicity that reconciles the profound
complexities of life with its innocent beginnings. Is this not the
paradigm of ultimate optimism for all cycles of life and psyches? So too
we are encouraged to strive as King David (following the same pattern)
directs us, “Hope to HASHEM, strengthen and fortify your heart, and hope
to HASHEM!” Straight--------Broken-------- and Straight Again!
Text Copyright © 2006 by Rabbi Label Lam and Torah.org.