BEREISHIS (Genesis, 1:1-6:8) — “The Loch Ness Sukkah”

There is a reference from this week’s Torah Portion that has found its way into the end-of-Sukkos liturgy.

On the first Thursday in history, G-d filled the seas:  G-d said, “The water will teem with swarms of living creatures . . .” . . . G-d created the sea monsters . . . (Genesis, 1:20-21)

The Talmud identifies these “sea monsters” as the male and female Leviathan.  The Leviathan was such a massive and dangerous creature, that G-d decided that the species should not be permitted to reproduce.  He killed the female and preserved its flesh and beautiful skin.  According to the Talmud (Bava Basra 75a) there will be a time in the future, after the Messiah comes, when the preserved Leviathan will be put to use.  Its meat will be used as a festive meal for the righteous, and the skin will be made into Succah-booths.

[DISCLAIMER:  I have no idea what that means.  Rabbinic literature is replete with esoteric references to events that will take place in the “End of Days.”  Many commentaries view these statements as allegorical, with no clear picture of what exactly the Talmud is referring to.  It is, I suppose, basically a reference to the fact that at a time of G-d’s choosing, Good will finally, and permanently, triumph over Evil, and the righteous will be rewarded for their good deeds.  Beyond that, I’m sure that we’ll get the exact details when we need to know them.

There is no shortage of websites where you can read the words of self-appointed “Kabbalists” and “Mystics” who will translate obscure texts and “explain” what this is all about.  I suggest you ignore those websites.  The writers don’t know what they’re talking about.  As the old adage goes, “Those who know don’t say.  Those who say don’t know.”  At least I have the intellectual honesty to do neither.]

Last Saturday, on Shemini Atzeres, we completed this year’s use of our Succah.  Sukkos was a wonderful holiday.  My family and I spent hours of quality family time, eating, singing, dancing, and sleeping in the Succah.  Although I looked forward to the Simchas Torah celebrations on Saturday night and Sunday, it was a bittersweet feeling.  It’s going to be a whole year until we have this great holiday again.  I’m going to miss that Succah!

After having a snack in the Succah for the final time this year, I recited the customary prayer: “May it be Your will, our G-d and G-d of our forefathers, that just as I have fulfilled the mitzvah and dwelled in this Succah, so may I merit in the coming year to dwell in the Succah of the skin of the Leviathan.”

A nice, upbeat prayer — a request that in the coming year, G-d will finally send the Messiah, ushering in a utopian era of world peace and mutual understanding.  A time when, as Isaiah says, swords will be made into plowshares, and war will be a defunct concept found only in history books.

But what if the Messiah doesn’t come?  What if next year isn’t perfect?  Would it not be appropriate to add a caveat to the above prayer?  How about something like, “Okay, G-d, I hope you send the Messiah.  But, if You decide not to, may it be Your will that my family all be together in good health to celebrate Sukkos together.”

Might it not make sense to have a “back-up plan”?  Why should we go for broke?

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Another question.

This Saturday we will again begin the year-long cycle of Torah Readings.  We will once again read about Creation.  We will once again read about the Garden of Eden and its temporary tenants, Adam and Eve.  We will once again read about their eviction.

G-d created Adam and gave him a partner.  He told them, “The Garden is yours.  Take what you want.  You will live forever, with all your needs provided.  You will have no pain, no disease, no death.  You will live an eternal life on a spiritual high.

“There’s just one little condition.  There’s the matter of a particular tree in the Garden.  That’s the Tree of Knowledge.  It’s off-limits.  You may not eat from that tree.  Otherwise, the rest of the Garden is at your disposal.”

By the end of the day, Adam and Eve were on the outside looking in.  They had been given ONE Mitzvah, and they failed.

The Garden of Eden is no longer available to the human race.  We are not considered worthy of living there.  In Jewish theology, the Garden of Eden is the name that is given to the place where the righteous go to receive their reward in the Afterlife.  Adam had the opportunity to live his life in the Garden of Eden.  We, his descendents, have to spend our 90 or 100 or 120 years living as good people before we can get to Eden.

What was G-d thinking?  G-d sees all and knows all!  Didn’t He know that Adam and Eve would eat the forbidden fruit?  (Just for the record, I don’t know of any sources in rabbinic literature that indicate that the fruit was an apple.  Suggested candidates include figs and even wheat!  There is a source in the Talmud that maintains that there is only one fruit whose juice has led and continues to lead people to use such poor judgment — the grape!)

Why did G-d send Adam and Eve into the Garden of Eden with the full knowledge that they would not deserve to stay?  Why didn’t He say, “Listen, folks, I’ve created a beautiful garden.  Unfortunately, I know that if I let you in right now, you will ignore my commandments, and lose your right to stay there.  Therefore, rather than engaging in a futile experiment, I’m telling you now that if you live a good life on earth, I’ll let you in after Judgment Day.”

Why did G-d put them to a test that He KNEW they would fail?

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Perhaps we see here a divine lesson about attitude.  Yes, of course G-d knew that Adam and Eve would fail the test and eat from the tree.  But He also knew that they had the potential to PASS the test.  He refused to let His Divine knowledge of the future skew His attitude in giving Adam and Eve a chance.

G-d created a world and gave us the opportunity to perfect that world.  Sometimes we mess up; that’s the way it is.  But we should always view ourselves as having the potential to excel.  We must always strive to meet that lofty goal.  Plan to succeed.  Then, if you fail, plan to succeed next time.

—————-

Perhaps that is the meaning behind the prayer as we leave the Succah.  We don’t pray for status quo.  We don’t want to settle for rebuilding our Succahs in Monsey, Boro Park, or even Jerusalem.  We pray for better!  We want to rebuild King David’s fallen “Succah” on the Temple Mount.  We want to sit in the Leviathan-skin Succah.  We pray for the best!

We pray to G-d that the coming year will be a year of peace and harmony.  We pray that the coming year will see a rebuilt Temple in Jerusalem.  We don’t think about the “what if’s.”  G-d, who knows the future, sent Adam and Eve into the Garden “expecting” the best.  We must do the same.

The coming year, with the help of G-d, is going to be a great year.  It is going to be a wonderful and miraculous year.  It’s going to be the greatest year in the history of the world.

And that’s no fish story!

Have a great Shabbos.

Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz

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From the Archives

“Let the SON Shine” (2016)

A baby boy is born.

His proud and hopeful parents bring him to the synagogue on the eighth day of his life, whereupon he is surgically and spiritually ushered into the Covenant of Abraham.

A prayer is recited “…May this little one become great. Just as he as entered the Covenant, so too may he enter into the Torah, the Chuppah (marriage canopy) and good deeds.” 

Big plans for this little guy. “May this little one (Kattan in Hebrew) become great (Gadol in Hebrew, literally big).”

A prayer that the Kattan will become Gadol, the little one will grow to become big.  We look forward to seeing this little 6-pounder turn into a strapping 6-footer.

Being a Mohel, I get to eat a lot of bagels & lox, and hear a lot of speeches.  I heard a beautiful explanation of this prayer …

Read more.

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“How Many G-Ds Does It Take To Make A World?” (2009)

Moses was not happy.  There he was, taking dictation from the Author of the Torah, writing each word per G-d’s instructions.  They were up to Genesis, 1:21.  G-d told him to write, ” . . . and G-d said, let Us make man in Our image . . .”

.. OUR image . . . ???

Moses was troubled by G-d referring to Himself in plural.  A major tenet of the Jewish faith is that there is only one G-d, who has no partners.  “Master of the World!  You are giving an opening to heretics!”…

Read more.

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“Be a World Builder” (2008)

…G-d wanted Israel to be His partner in Creation.  But how could this be done?  G-d brought forth all His miraculous powers of creation in bringing the world into being.  What did we do?  Nothing! …

Read more.

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“Kindness, Torah-Style” (2006)

…  Was it really such a charitable act for G-d to feed Adam and Eve?  After all, He created them!  Doesn’t a parent feed and clothe and educate his child, and help him to become self-sufficient?

It was, in a sense, in G-d’s “best interest” to take care of Adam and Eve…

Read more.

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 “The Right Tools” (2005)

It is axiomatic that the right tools make the job much easier to do.  Did you ever try to use a flat screwdriver on a Philips-head screw because you didn’t have what you needed?   It just doesn’t work right.

Before you start a job, it is very important to get what you need.  Yes, you can improvise, and sometimes it will come out ok.  However, the extra time you take to make a quick trip to the hardware store will yield worthwhile dividends…

Go out there and conquer the world.  Negotiate that contract!  Build that better mousetrap!  Heal that patient!  Hit that grand slam home run!

But before you do, make sure you are prepared.  Do your homework.  Sterilize your surgical instruments.  Go to spring training.

One more thing …

Read more.

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“The Loch Ness Succah” (2003)

… A nice, upbeat prayer — a request that in the coming year, G-d will finally send the Messiah, ushering in a utopian era of world peace and mutual understanding.  A time when, as Isaiah says, swords will be made into plowshares, and war will be a defunct concept found only in history books.

But what if the Messiah doesn’t come?  What if next year isn’t perfect?  Would it not be appropriate to add a caveat to the above prayer?  How about something like, “Okay, G-d, I hope you send the Messiah.  But, if You decide not to, may it be Your will that my family all be together in good health to celebrate Sukkos together.”

Might it not make sense to have a “back-up plan”?  Why should we go for broke? …

Read more.

———————————————————————————-

“The Evolutionary War” (2002) 

Who’s right, scientists or the Torah?  On Rosh Hashanah, we began the year 5763. How can we believe that the world is less than six thousand years old when the scientific evidence indicates that it is BILLIONS of years old?

What about fossils?  What about carbon dating?  Can we, as intelligent people, really believe the Adam & Eve story?  What about dinosaurs?  What about all of the evidence of various life forms, leading to the advanced stage of development at which we now stand?  How can we believe in the Garden of Eden instead of Jurassic Park? …

Read more.

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“Cry ‘Uncle'” (2001)

… What could have caused such strife, such animosity that would lead Cain to destroy one seventh of the human race? …

Read more.

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 “‘Big Mac’ Strikes Out In the Garden of Eden” (2000)

… My son showed me an article last week (Total Baseball Weekly — October 18-24, 2000 — no link available) about some baseball fans that approached home run superstar Mark McGuire and asked him for his autograph.  Big Mac “graciously” offered to give his autograph to whomever would be kind enough to go to Starbucks and fetch him a cup of coffee.

…  Without his fans footing the bill, he would have to go out and get a real job and buy his own coffee.  Here is a man who has a lot to learn about appreciation.

Too bad.  He should have read this week’s Torah Portion …

Read more.

This is the weekly message at TorahTalk.org. Copyright © 2000-2016 by Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz.  May be reprinted. Please include copyright information.

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Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz is a Mohel (Brisrabbi.com) and chaplain in Monsey, New York. For information about scheduling a Bris or a lecture, or just to say hello, call (800) 83MOHEL.

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Published in: on October 24, 2003 at 12:20 pm  Leave a Comment  

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