א׳ בסיון ה׳תשע״ג (May 10, 2013)
Every Single Day Is An Entity All For Itself. Every Day Is Precious [Parshat Bamidbar By Rabbi Zalman Lent]
One day that changed her life forever. On April 21, 2003, a young woman called Amanda was preparing to celebrate her 17th birthday with friends and family the very next day. A few hours later she was gone; she vanished for ten years, with no sign as to where she was. One day she was a happy teenager, working shifts at Burger King; the next she was enslaved, tortured and abused along with two and possibly three other young women in horrific and repellent circumstances.
Thankfully, another day arrived, a decade later, when her situation would begin to improve. An unlocked door, a brave and helpful neighbor … and she was free, along with the other two captives.
Two days that changed a life. Alongside the horror and revulsion at what had gone on, waves of joy and relief washed across the nation as people found out the three were still alive.
We all have moments in our lives when the events happen that are so dramatic that we never forget what we were doing at that particular time, on that specific day.
This week we will celebrate the festival of Shavuot, the Festival of Weeks, commemorating the Giving of the Torah over three thousand years ago. As we stand in shul together to hear the Ten Commandments, we will try to visualize the momentous events that took place on the sands of the Sinai desert, at the foot of Mount Sinai on that incredible day: The booming thunder and bursts of lightning, the piercing shofar blast and the dense clouds descending on the mountain top – and then the voice of G-d proclaiming the Aseret HaDibrot (Ten Commandments), the moral code by which we try to live our lives to this very day.
What is difficult to comprehend is how the Jews could sin so grievously with the Golden Calf shortly after that incredible Divine Revelation, but they did … and all because of one day.
The Torah relates how the entire nation was waiting expectantly for Moses to descend from the mountain, but they miscalculated the dates (because in the Hebrew calendar each day begins with the evening before, thus excluding the very first day from the forty days). Yet instead of waiting a little longer, their pent-up emotions erupted in uncontrollable behavior leading ultimately to the worship of a false god, a golden calf.
The effect of this particular sin reverberated through Jewish history. Our Sages explain that those who so brazenly created the Golden Calf only forty days after the “marriage” of G-d and the Jewish people, weakened the entire relationship, setting a precedent for later generations to follow when they wanted to stray. Their punishment was not long in coming, as those involved perished right there in the desert, and the 17th day of the month of Tammuz, when the event occurred, became a day of recurrent tragedy through Jewish history. All that tragedy, simply because of that one “missed” day under the hot desert sun.
They tell a story of a Jewish prisoner who was granted only one day out of jail, where he languished without access to kosher food, synagogues, family and friends. He asked his Rabbi the following question: “Which day should I choose? Should I choose Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur, Pesach, Shavuot or Sukkot?”
His Rabbi answered, “You should take the very first day you can! If you can go to shul tomorrow and pray with tallit and tefillin, if you can see your wife and children for a few precious hours … why wait?”
Every single day is an entity all for itself. Every day is precious.
We are now just before the festival of Shavuot, that unique day when the Jews received the Torah at Mount Sinai. Every single member of the Jewish people was present at that event, men, women and children, down to tiny newborns. Each year we relive that giving of the Torah, and that transmission of Torah values to the next generation.
Let us ensure that we are gathered together in shul to receive the Torah afresh this Shavuot, men women and children affirming once again the importance of passing on that precious golden chain of tradition to the next generation.
Let us pray that the three young women will somehow find the strength, in the loving arms of their families, to erase the traumatic memories from the last decade and to look forward with hope and optimism to a fresh start, to be able to live a normal everyday life, one special day at a time. Shabbat Shalom.
Rabbi Zalman Lent
Rabbi Zalman Lent is a Community Rabbi in Dublin and director of Chabad of Ireland.
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