Sunday, September 30, 2007

IMAX your life!

There is a famous teaching which I have heard many times about the holiday of sukkot. I hear it quoted by many different rabbis without ever really understanding what we are supposed to understand from it. I think I now found the key to understand it properly.

I traced back this teaching to the Vilna Gaon in Kol Hator but it might have even earlier sources.

The teaching goes like this: “There are only two mitsvot in this world in which you fully enter your body in the mitzvah: The mitzvah of Sukkah, and the Mitsvah of Yishuv Erets Israel”. Nu, ok, great! We enter our the mitzvah with our whole body. Whats the chiddush? What does this change in my life? Why do I need to know this interesting fact?

I think, that if we understand this teaching more deeply, we will, together, be able to understand the true nature of the sukkah we are sitting in and also, we will be able to more fully understand and appreciate the nature of erets Israel.

My Rav, Rav Mordechai Elon Shli”ta, once told us that when he spent a few days in Eilat giving over shiurim to the public there, the people who were hosting him asked him: “Rav, have you ever been to IMAX before?” The Rav didn’t really know what IMAX was. You have to understand, in Israel, IMAX is not something you find on every street corner. And the IMAX theatre in Eilat is a very popular attraction for Israelis since its one of, if not the only one in Israel. So Rav Elon’s host told him: You absolutely need to come and try it out. So the Rav went, and they decided to go see some educational movie about whales. Now, before you enter the IMAX theatre, they give you glasses which you put on and then, when the movie starts, you’re in a completely new world. The whales come racing at you and you move away to try to avoid them! You’re Mamash IN the movie!

Why am I telling you this now?

I think that if we understand the difference between IMAX and a regular movie, then, we’ll understand the difference between the reality outside the sukkah and the reality inside the sukkah, and also the difference between the reality in chuts laarets and the reality in erets Israel.

When you live your day to day life here in Montreal, in order to find kedusha, there are clear ways to find it. Tefillin has kedusha because you use it for a mitzvah. You can find kedusha in the beit midrash because it is the place where we learn torah! But then, we can go outside and there is no more kedusha. We know that we can’t throw a siddur on the floor because it has kedusha but a pile of regular pieces of paper doesn’t have kedusha. Even Chassidut, which talks a lot of turning everything around you into holy things by revealing the hidden light inside the things around you, tells you that you need to do that through mitsvot. A chair stays a regular chair until you use it for a holy purpose like learning torah and only then will you have revealed its holy potential. In Chuts Laarets, outside the sukkah, you live in a regular world and the holiness is something with defined boundaries, “on a screen”.

When you enter the sukkah, you enter a world which is all one big mitzvah, its all kedusha! Everything around you is part of this mitzvah! Your whole body, and your whole existence, enters this world of kedusha. The chair you are sitting on is not only holy if you learn torah with it, the chair is already showing its holy potential by being used inside the sukkah!

The same is true with Erets Israel:

When you get to erets Israel, you enter a world where everything around you is holiness. You are inside the holiness. There isn’t “Judaism” and then “the real world”. The Real World is Judaism! It’s not something with defined boundaries. It’s not “on a screen”. It’s Mamash all around you! You are living IN the movie!

I’ve said this a few times but: for example, When you plant a tree in chuts laaretz, then afterwards, in order to feel a little bit of holiness, you go to shower to be mechubad and then you can say a few tehillim, learn a bit of torah.
In Erets Israel, as you are on your knees planting the trees with you hands full of dirt, then is the right time to look up and say “I feel the kedusha!”. The dirt on your hands in the kedusha! The tree you are planting is kedusha! Everything is kedusha!

In Erets Israel, in Medinat Israel, everything is kedusha! The land is kedusha, the buildings are kedusha, the plants are kedusha, the economy is kedusha, the agriculture is kedusha, the army is kedusha! Everything is Kedousha!

For 2000 years, we have lived in a reality where our whole Judaism was always “on the screen” except maybe for the 7 days we spent in the sukkah where we were able to enter a reality where everything around us is kedusha. This was necessary. We needed these 2000 years where Judaism was something a bit external from our “real life” in order to be able to have space to contemplate it, study it, and deepen our understanding of it. We needed to get ready to be able to internalize it more and more in order to properly live in the reality where everything around us is holiness!

Today, baruch hashem, we have the opportunity to go back to a place where everything is kedusha, to erets Israel.

I was once with a few of my friends in my Rav’s office and we were trying to organize some leadership training for some of the yeshiva bachourim. One of us then told him: There are some people that will not want to participate because they will say its “bitoul torah” – they could be learning instead! Rav Elon looked at us with a smile and told us: Its not bitoul torah, maybe its bitoul toyreh, but its definitely not bitoul torah!
He then explained himself: There is a gemara in massechet chaguiga which says: “There has never been a bitoul torah like the time when Am Israel left Erets Israel.” Rav Elon then asked: How can we say such a thing? When we went to Chuts laaretz, when we went to galut, this is where we wrote all the rishonim, all the acharonim, the shulchan arouch, the rambam! Even the gemara was written in chuts laaretz! There has never been as much flowering of torah as in chuts laaretz! Rav Elon then explained: There is a difference between bitul torah, and bitul toyreh. Bitul Toyreh, is when there is less torah, and yes usually its something bad but Rav Tsvi Yehudah already told us that if you do not know when to close the gemara, don’t open it! Because then are sometimes where the gemara itself tells you to close it! Bitoul torah is something completely different. Bitoul torah is when you have a lot of torah! You have a Shoulchan Arouch! You have a Mishnei Torah! You have a Gemara! But the torah is “mevutelet”, you cannot connect it to your day to day life. You have torah conceptually, philosophically, but its in books not all around you. The torah is on the screen, you are not living the movie, you are not living the torah! This is TRUE bitul torah!!

It says that in the time of mashiach, the whole world will become erets Israel. I always thought weird that this was a bit of an unjewish imperialistic, colonialist sentence! We will conquer the world! Now I understand: The whole world will be filled with holiness! The whole world will be part of this reality where we can see Godliness, holiness, all around us! When the Jews return to their land, then, “venivrechu becha kol mishpechot haadama”. The whole world gains from it. Its actually the most humanistic, universal message. The whole world gets to live Godliness.

Beezrat hashem, we will all soon be zoche to sit in the sukah of Leviatan in Jerusalem. Even before that, beezrat hashem, we will sit in a stam sukkah in Jerusalem! Until then, our job is clear. Our job is to find holiness wherever we have it and make it the ikar, the most important part of our lives, for all our lives to be illuminated by those specific defined places: The beit midrash, the tfillah in synagogue etc… Our job is also to deepen our understanding of this torah so that when we go back to Israel, very soon, each at the time at which he will be able to make it, we will be able to properly live in a world where we are completely surrounded by holiness, in erets israel.

Beezrat Hashem, harachaman hou yakim lanu et sukat david hanofelet.

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