Shabbat Chol HaMoed Sukkot: Shul Is Not Just Shofar And Kol Nidrei

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There is a Sukkot story about a family living in an apartment complex, with no space to build a sukkah. Eventually they decide to build it in one of the visitor parking spaces, but neglect to get permission to do so. The building management are furious and without asking for explanations haul them into court to demand that the obstruction be removed immediately. The judge, a fellow named Shapiro, is very tough with the tenants. After a brief deliberation he gives his verdict: “You’ve got exactly seven days to take it down.”

We are fast approaching the end of Sukkot, and the final days of the entire Tishrei festival season, from Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur throughSukkotShmini Atzeret and Simchat Torah. Now the atmosphere in shul has changed, from solemn and serious to joyful and relaxed. The tunes in the tefillot will also change, from evocative and uplifting to light-hearted and cheerful … “ve’samachta be’chagecha.”

One thing we mustn’t do though, is underestimate the power of joy. In fact sometimes what cannot be achieved by solemn prayer can be achieved specifically through joy. There is a story told of a young man in Poland who had a frightening dream that one of his children would pass away that very year. The dream was so vivid that he and his wife felt it should not be ignored, but should be relayed to their Rebbe for his blessing.

He travelled immediately to his Rebbe and told him of his frightening dream. The Rebbe sat silent for a while deep in thought, sighed deeply and did not respond. This did not bode well for the panicking father; he knew that if the Rebbe did not reply with a blessing, he had seen in the heavens that this was in fact true, and was unable to help.

This took place shortly before Sukkot, and the father remained there until after the festivities of Simchat Torah. When the time came for him to return home, he approached the Rebbe for his parting blessing. This time the Rebbe gave him a broad smile, and assured him that all would be well with his family. “Tell me,” the Rebbe asked, “is there anything special that you did over the Yomtov that could have changed this terrible decree? When you last visited I saw no way to change the heavenly decision, yet somehow it has happened!”

The young man recounted how during the hakafot (the joyous dancing with the Torah scrolls on Simchat Torah) he had been standing at the side crying, unable to participate. All he could think of was his return home, where he would have to share the bad news with his wife that even the Rebbe was unable to give them a blessing in this situation. Then he remembered that, after all, it was Simchat Torah, when it is a mitzvah to dance with the scrolls, seven times around the bimah in the shul. With this in mind, he pushed all negative thoughts out of his mind, washed his face, and joined the crowds dancing around the shul. He participated with all his energy, dancing and singing as if he were the happiest man on earth, until he was exhausted.

The Rebbe smiled again. “You should know,” he said, “that I was unable to break that Heavenly decree, hard as I tried. Yet when you danced through the night of Simchat Torah, despite all the pain you were feeling, you broke through the Heavens, and changed that decree. Now go home in peace to your family.”

On the 30th of June 2009, a strange thing happened to the international price of oil. In the middle of the night the price per barrel mysteriously jumped by more than $1.50, reaching its highest price in eight months. This is the kind of price jump that is usually caused by a major geopolitical event. Only recently was the truth behind that strange spike in oil prices revealed by the FSA.

Hard to believe, but this price hike, caused by the purchase of seven million barrels of crude oil, was the work of one drunken employee! Steve Perkins, senior broker at PVM Oil Futures, was a little the worse for wear when, at 1.22am, he began purchasing 520 million dollars worth of oil, 69% of the global market! By 3:41am the damage had been done.

Mr Perkins has, understandably, had his trading license revoked for five years. The FSA have said that they may then re-approve his license, with the comment that “Mr Perkins poses an extreme risk to the market when drunk.”

Could happen to anyone :-). Well, not exactly … but each of us does have the ability to change the world overnight. We can do that on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur with prayer and fasting, and now on Simchat  Torah we have the chance to do that with joy.

Join us this year, bring the children and grandchildren, and let them see shul in a different light altogether. Shul is not just shofar and Kol Nidrei, nor is that all that Judaism has to offer — happiness and joy are equally important. Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach.

 Rabbi Zalman Lent

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