By Sivan Rahav-Meir
Last week, at a shop in New York, I asked for a small cup of squeezed orange juice. The vendor gave me a huge cup full of juice.
“I asked for a small one,” I said to correct the mistake, but he pointed at two bigger cups that were there. “What you received is the small one. There is also medium size, and that one over there is the big one!”
I still haven’t gotten used to the fact that everything here is huge.
The real challenge that Sefer Devarim cautions us about is living in a society of abundance, a society in which there is everything, big-time. Once and again Moshe Rabbeinu does not warn us of when we will be lacking from richness, but rather of richness itself; not of the danger of hunger, but of the danger of satiation. After years of Bnei Yisrael wandering in the desert, Sefer Devarim prepares us for the challenge of our times: life in a society that has, rather than in a society that does not have. Our ancestors had to deal with slavery, hunger, persecution, and expulsions, but what do we do later, when we enter the good Land, a land flowing with milk and honey?
It is not for naught that the parashah stresses again and again: Remember, do not forget; watch out lest you forget; do not “fatten your heart” and kick the tradition that has been sanctified with tears and blood. It is true; all of the generations before us have displayed devotion, adherence, and enthusiasm under tough conditions. But we must not underestimate our own difficult challenge: it takes true devotion to be able to continue on their path under easy, comfortable conditions.
The school year does not begin now, it ends now. The real school year is behind us. Summer vacation is the most meaningful and most effective learning time, time in which children learn how real life looks — how their parents speak, work, drive, behave at the park or at a hotel, and how the whole world, outside of school, runs.
Obviously, the vacation is too long and therefore our level of irritability to which they have been exposed is too great, but anyway, before we “deposit” them again in the hands of their teachers (and a big thank-you to you, teachers!), we must remember that the most meaningful relationship in life is probably that of a father and mother with their children.
Even with all the news stories about “the best teacher I had” or “the teacher who changed my life,” there is no doubt that the teachers who influence us the most are our parents. From the way in which parents buy school books, wrap them, and handle them, the children learn no less than from the books themselves.
You can break almost any relationship. Friendships can end, marriages can end in divorce, a contract can be breached, but a parent–child relationship is impossible to break under any circumstance. Even if, over the years, we do not agree, we quarrel, and we say fierce words, parents and children can never nullify that which connects them to each other. This is such a strong, powerful, and basic relationship that the Torah uses it as a metaphor to the relationship between us and G-d: “You are sons to G-d your L-rd.” Also in this context, even if a rift was formed in our relationship with our Father, even if we strayed, lost our way, forgot what our destination is, we are always His sons.
All throughout the Jewish world, Sephardi Jews started saying Selichot on Rosh Chodesh Elul, in preparation for Yom Kippur. In his new book “Likrati Metzaticha,” Rabbi Chaim Sabato describes the magical Selichot of his childhood in the ma’abarah (a refugee absorption camp in Israel in the 1950s).
“Grandpa sings the Selichot with a pleasant tune. The tunes of the Selichot have a lot of sorrow in them — from the sorrow of the Shechinah and the sorrow of galut (exile) and the sorrow of sin — but they do not have hopelessness in them. They descend to the depths of the heart and rise up to the thoughts of repentance, until they shine again with a flicker of hope. And everyone cries. Some cry for the body and its ailments, and others cry for the torments of their soul who sinned, and some who see others crying, cry with them. And even from the women’s section crying is heard. One woman stands in a certain corner and sighs, and another stands in another corner opposite her and weeps. The elderly among them sigh for their inequities, begging for a good outcome of their lives. The middle-aged women among them cry for their unmarried daughters, and the young girls among them cry because they see their mothers cry. And then everyone — as one — is shaken out of this and cries out: ‘אל רחום וחנון‘ (a merciful, compassionate G-d), and after the Selichot they sing with a tune of appeasement, as if they are promised clemency: ‘For on this day He will condone you to purify you of all of your sins.’ Whose heart shall not melt on this day.”
The world has changed. Perhaps the huge rush to Selichot and Selichot tours stems from our deep nostalgic longing for this innocence and simplicity.
Sivan Rahav Meir is an Israeli television and print journalist, author, and radio and TV host. She is the World Mizrach shlichah to North America.