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"Truly --- 'Z'man Simchateinu'!"

10/06/2020 03:10:08 PM


Rabbi Reuben Israel Abraham, CDR, CHC, USN (ret)

The 7-day festival of Sukkot is known in Hebrew as “Z’man Simchateinu” – “the Season of Our Joy.”  In fact, this is the most joyous of the Shalosh Regalim (the three Pilgrimage Festivals), each of which required us to travel to Yerushalayim (Jerusalem) to bring special korbanot (sacrificial offerings) to be placed on the altar in the Temple.  In the special Torah reading for the first two days of this autumn festival we read the following: “Us’machtem lifney Adonai Eloheychem shiv’at yamim.” --- “You shall rejoice before HaShem your G-d seven days.”  Immediately after the conclusion of the seventh day of Sukkot which was punctuated by the ritual of the beating of the aravot on Hoshanah Rabbah, we enter the solemnity of Shemini Atzeret (the Eighth Day of Tarrying) and the joyousness of Simchat Torah, literally “Rejoicing of the Torah.”  So, you may ask, how much more joyful can one be after celebrating Sukkot?  Perhaps this story may provide an answer.

Goldzweig and Oppenheim were two wealthy merchants who traded in rare gemstones and fine jewelry.  Each year, they would travel from their respective homes in Warsaw and Munich to the great annual fair in Leipzig.  As old friends, they were accustomed to lodge, dine, pray, and do business together, often pooling their resources for their mutual benefit.

The week of trading was drawing to a close.  Goldzweig and Oppenheim had conducted more than satisfactory business, and were about to return home with an ample stock that promised healthy profits for each of them. Before catching their afternoon trains, they were left with one more significant task – buying a gift for their wives.  For them, returning empty-handed from Leipzig was a worse domestic sin than eating on Yom Kippur!  They had to find something for their better halves.  But what does one purchase for the wives of wealthy gem merchants who have every material amenity that a woman could dream of?  The business of present-purchasing proved to be a greater challenge for Goldzweig and Oppenheim than a week of bartering and negotiating they had just completed.  The two merchants had to be at the train station in just two short hours, but they were still empty-handed!  They could not seem to find a suitable gift for their wives.  Another gold watch or a diamond broach just would not suffice.

Suddenly an old Polish Chasid with long silver payos who was wearing a dashik (the black narrow-visor cap that was common among Polish and Ukrainian Chassidic Jews at the time) on his head approached the two merchants.  He asked: “Could I interest you gentlemen in rare Judaica?”  Goldzweig and Oppenheim looked at each other and smiled.  What a novel idea!  Judaica was always a good investment that never decreased in value.  The old Polish Chasid had two hand-illustrated copies of the classic Tzena U’rena Yiddish commentary for women that had been printed on rare parchment paper in early 18th century Budapest.  Even 150 years later, the volumes were in near mint condition.  At only 80 crowns apiece, the books were indeed a bargain, and both men jumped at the opportunity to purchase the books.  After paying the old Polish Chasid, Goldzweig and Oppenheim hurried to the train station.

After arriving home in Warsaw and before he unpacked the rest of his bags, Goldzweig produced the carefully-wrapped volume and presented it to his wife.  As she opened the package, her eyes opened wide and filled with tears.  After she carefully examined the book, a tender smile illuminated her face as she clutched it to her heart.  “Shimon,” she said, “this is the most exquisite gift I have ever received!  I will cherish this forever, and I will read it every Shabbat!  This will become our most important heirloom to be given to our eldest daughter with the hope that she will pass it down to her eldest daughter and so on and so on until the end of time!  Only a G-d fearing, magnanimous, and loving husband such as yourself could have found such a priceless gift!  This Tzena U’rena is so very beautiful!  How can I ever thank you?”

Oppenheim, on the hand, unfortunately received a much less enthusiastic welcome upon his arrival at home in Munich.  “Another dust-catcher?!” his irate wife shrieked at him.  She took the rare antique volume from him and threw it into a corner treating it as if were last week’s newspaper.

On Simchat Torah, which “wife” will you be?  Will you be overjoyed at once again ending and beginning the greatest story ever told: the story of Am Yisrael – the People Israel as presented in our Torah?  Will you treasure it and use it every week as you journey through the next year and the rest of your life?  Or will you relegate it to the proverbial “dustbin of history,” never giving even a moment’s thought to its eternal truths and lessons?  The fact of the matter is that Simchat Torah can be a turning point in the life of each member of Am Yisrael.  The more we learn to love Hashem and H-s Torah, the happier we can be with ourselves and our lives.

May all of us sing and dance on this most joyous of days!

Thu, April 22 2021 10 Iyyar 5781