People are uniquely obsessed with their work. Spending more hours at the office and being “super busy” is for many a status symbol. However, complete dedication to one’s work requires a real passion for what one does, and nobody is that passionate about their work. Even very passionate people have plenty of paperwork or other stuff that needs to get done, and as such, it is challenging to run on passion. In an op-ed written for the New York Times by Firmin DeBrabander, a professor of philosophy, DeBrabander suggests that we shift our attitudes and look at work as a duty. Duty is not something that is forced but something meaningful.
In this week’s Parsha, G-d’s providence is likened to an eagle, (Devarim 22:12):
כנשר יעיר קנו על גוזליו ירחף יפרש כנפיו יקחהו ישאהו על אברתו.
“He was like an eagle arousing its nest, hovering over its young,
spreading its wings and taking them, carrying them on its pinions.”
Why does the Torah’s description have conflicting imagery? In the first half of the pasuk, the eagle hovers over the young. Yet, in the second half of the pasuk, the young are placed on top of the eagle’s wings?
R. Yaakov Yechezkia Greenwald, suggests an answer based on an enigmatic Midrash:
ולקחתם לכם ביום הראשון, ראשון לחשבון עוונות.
“The first day of Sukkot is the first day of reckoning of one’s sins.”
There are many explanations given to interpret the meaning of this Midrash. Kedushat Levi suggests that during the Yamim Noraim (Days of Awe), our focus is on תשובה מיראה repentance out of fear. The Talmud (Yoma 86b) states that for תשובה מיראה averot (sins) turn into Shegagot -mistakes. They are neutralized. Sukkot is a time when our focus shifts to תשובה מאהבה repentance out of love. When it comes to teshuva מאהבה, the averot turn into Zechuyot – merits. Therefore, a reckoning of how many averot we committed is important to determine how many merits we now have. The Midrash says that Sukkot is ראשון לחשבון עוונות, meaning the first day of reckoning for sins now turned to merits.
Rabbi Greenwald adds that until we reach a state of תשובה מאהבה, we are embarrassed by our sins. We ask G-d to provide cover and conceal us so that we don’t have to be ashamed. This is the imagery of the eagle hovering over the young. However, once we reach a state of תשובה מאהבה, the shade is no longer a means of covering up for what we did, but a symbol of our relationship with Him. He protects us out in the open, in what the Zohar refers to צילא דמהימנותא (Divine protection), like the eagle who spreads its wings.
Judaism is a religion of duty but also a religion of passion. There are times throughout the year when we are driven by duty more than by passion. However, passion is an integral part of Judaism. Sukkot is called Z’man Simchatenu – the time of rejoicing is dedicated to developing that passion and having it last in us throughout the year.
I want to take this opportunity to thank all the Chazanim, President, board of directors and all who helped create such an uplifting Yom Kippur. The invigorating heartfelt Tefilot and singing prayed in unison with such passion should please G-d carry us through Sukkot and the entire year.
Shabbat Shalom & Chag Sameach,
Rabbi Shlomo Gabay