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Jewish World Review
Oct. 14, 2005
/11 Tishrei, 5766
Making every moment momentous
Rabbi David Aaron
Moses and the mastery of Sukkos
Moses never makes it to the Promised Land. Does his life end unfilled? Is he a tragic figure?
No. Moses knew the secret of life. He understood that the goal of life is not in the promised future but in every moment.
There is an Eastern teaching that proclaims, "Be here and now." Torah however would say, "Serve G-d here and now." This is the fullest experience of life and indeed this is how Moses lived his life as a devoted servant of G-d.
Jewish Mysticism teaches that G-d wants to be present in the here and now, and our job is to serve G-d in that desire. We serve G-d when we imbue each moment with the presence of G-d. In other words, we should always ask ourselves, "How can we serve G-d right now?" If right now I am with my son, I should see this moment as an opportunity to show him love and thus serve G-d, who is the source of all love. It's not my love. I didn't invent love. I didn't create love and I didn't give it its' power and meaning. Love did not start with me and love will not end with me. I am not the master of love but I am the servant of love and when I love my son I serve to make G-d's love present in the here and now.
My service to the One Who wants to be present in this world in the here and the now is to make G-d's love and compassion and justice, if that is what the moment calls for present in this moment. That is fully living. We should not be living for the future or in the past. The goal of life is to serve G-d here and now, to be present in this moment. Torah teaches there is no greater joy in life than to serve G-d. G-d wants to be present in this world through you and me. To live is to serve. This is our ultimate accomplishment and ecstasy.
People live their life on fast forward, when they should really be living their life on deep inward, in this moment, serving G-d to reveal G-d and all of His qualities of wisdom, understanding, compassion, love, justice, truth, mastery, magnificence, life and peace in the world. If we serve G-d here and now, we can make these qualities present in every moment. That's what we came to this world to do and that's the only reason we are here. Moses knew this and lived this. His life was not about getting to the Promised Land but serving G-d. And if G-d did not want him to reach the Promised Land then so be it.
EMBRACING THE TRANSIENT
To make each moment ultimate we need to use each moment to serve the ultimate G-d. And when we immerse ourselves in each moment to meet G-d and we embrace each moment as an opportunity to serve G-d, we overcome the anxiety of transience because each moment is then filled with eternal meaning.
This is the lesson of the upcoming holiday Sukkos, which begins Monday night. It is one of the most beautiful holidays of the Jewish calendar and it is called z'man simhasanu, the time of our joy.
In celebration of this holiday we are commanded to take up temporary residence in a sukkah, a flimsy hut topped with perishable leaves unlike our permanent home which has a good, shingled roof. Jewish law even requires us to be able to see a bit of the stars at night through the leaves.
Sukkos includes a few other rituals that help us seize the moment and be with G-d. Each day of the holiday we shake the four menim, or species. Perhaps you have seen or heard of the lulav, which is a palm branch, and the esrog, which is a type of citron that looks like an elongated lemon. Then there are the hadassim -myrtle branches and the aravos-willow branches. Right after Yom Kippur the Day of Atonement, the menim shopping starts. It is an intense time, especially in Jerusalem. All through the markets, vintage-looking Jews with little gem glasses examine each esrog for every little blemish. We want to do the mitzvah in the most beautiful way. People may even spend hundreds of dollars on these four menim, even though in a week's time after the holiday they will be worth nothing.
During the week of Sukkos we watch these beautiful menim that we spent so much money on wilt away. It is a wonder why, in a world with such advanced technology, we cannot create a nice-looking plastic etrog that we could use every year. Nowadays, we can buy artificial flowers that even smell real. These things last. But on Sukkos we immerse ourselves in a temporary dwelling, we embrace perishable species and we turn around and wave them towards the four corners of the earth. It really seems silly; turning in a circle we just end up in the same place that we started.
Also seemingly strange, during this "time of our joy" we read Kohels, Ecclesiastes. The sages tell us that King Solomon was inspired to write this book when he realized in a prophet way that the Temple that he built would be destroyed. Lamenting over that painful truth he wrote, "Futile of futilities, of what worth is the work of man under the sun." It sure seems odd to read this apparently depressing book on the holiday of our happiness. However, King Solomon's brutal confrontation with the transience of life actually reveals the key to true happiness. He concludes, "In the end, obey the word of G-d and do His command because this is everything."
The final conclusion of Koheles, after King Solomon experiences all the great escapes, running away from the transience of life, he finally realizes the secret to serenity: Live in the now, serve G-d now and connect to G-d now.
On Sukkos we celebrate transience. We embrace transience when we embrace our perishable four species and we immerse ourselves in transience when we leave our permanent home and dwell in a temporary hut covered by perishables. Sukkos teaches us that happiness is not based on what you have nor what you can hold on to but who you are by virtue of your relationship to G-d. When we love and serve G-d here and now we infuse this finite space with infinity and this moment with eternity. If you understand this truth then you will never be in a rush to get to some other place and get to some future time. Because you realize that the joy of life is to love and serve G-d and there is no better time than "now" so what's the rush? If not now, when?
Therefore, the key to happiness and serenity is to embrace the now, as impermanent as it is, because the present is really G-d making Himself present right here and now. The present is, so to speak, a presentation and manifestation of G-d. Our joy is to merge with this moment, fully live it up by doing good and serving G-d in His desire to become even more present in our world through us. Our joy is to make the present our gift to G-d and become fully present with His presence. Indeed Moses mastered the art of Sukkos serving G-d here and now.
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Rabbi David Aaron is the founder and dean of Isralight, an international organization with programming in Israel, New York South Florida, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and Toronto. He has taught and inspired thousands of Jews who are seeking meaning in their lives and a positive connection to their Jewish roots.
He is the author of the newly released, The Secret Life of G-d, and Endless Light: The Ancient Path of Kabbalah to Love, Spiritual Growth and Personal Power , Seeing G-d and Love is my religion. (Click on links to purchase books. Sales help fund JWR.) He lives in the old City of Jerusalem with his wife and their seven children.
© 2005, Rabbi David Aaron