Hanna's Dvar Torah

"And they lived happily ever after..." - Simchat Torah

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“And they lived happily ever after”. This is the optimistic end of children’s stories. Yet the Torah chooses to finish with something less happy.

On Simchat Torah, this upcoming Wednesday 29/09/21, we will finish the reading of the Torah (the Pentateuch), completing the weekly portions (Parashot) which we analyzed every week, and then directly begin the new cycle of readings. It is a very joyous holiday, which we celebrate with Hakafot, i.e circles and dances around the Bima, holding the Sefer Torah. Amidst all this rejoicing, the last verses of the Torah do not seem to fit the joyous atmosphere. The Torah ends with the passing of Moses and a few words summarizing his life. Could we not read something happier as a conclusion, especially on that day?

Simchat Torah completes the period of the holidays of the month of Tishri. We started with Rosh Hashana, the Shofar and the symbolic foods, we continued with Yom Kippur, the fast and the repentance, then with Sukkot, the Sukkah and the Four Kinds and now we reach the culmination. Now we need to take all the inspiration we gathered during the holidays and internalize it, so that it gives us strength to continue during the grey routine of our everyday life which awaits us “after the holidays”. This is one of the basic messages of Simchat Torah.

This is why we read about the passing of Moses. When Moses led us, we lived in the series of miracles. The Exodus from Egypt, the Parting of the Sea, the Giving of the Torah, but also more “simple” everyday miracles such as the Manna, the bread from Heavens and other miracles. After Moses’ passing, G-d started to lead is in a more “natural” way.

Certainly, there are miracles always and everywhere, but they are usually not revealed miracles. Thus, we need more strength to continue to believe and connect to G-d when we don’t feel that He is close to us in a revealed way.

But this is precisely what G-d appreciates more, when we do an effort for Him, when we do an action that does not come easily for us. We must not get distracted by the difficulties but uncover and reveal G-d’s closeness to us in those challenging moments.

The same happens on Simchat Torah. We are now finishing the holidays and it is more difficult to feel the inspiration on a normal Tuesday. But this is exactly what G-d enjoys more, when we serve Him despite the difficulties.

Let us take the inspiration for the holidays with us through a small action that will accompany in our everyday routine for the upcoming year. Let us choose a weekly study of the Torah, a weekly phone call to an elderly or lonely person, wearing the Tefillin daily (for a man, except on Shabbat), the weekly lighting of the candles for women and girls, or simply the reciting of the Shema or any other good action. And let’s carry this on for all of 5762!

Chag Sameach!



Is everything temporary? - Sukkot

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I read the other day something that I liked: “Everything in life is temporary. If things go well, enjoy it because it won’t last forever. And if things do not go well, don’t worry. It can’t last forever.”

A central theme of the holiday of Sukkot is the temporality. We build a Sukkah, i.e. a temporary construction and we live there for the week of the holiday. It is temporary, this is why the schach, the roof, is made of leaves and cannot protect us from the rain. On the other hand, we should consider this temporality as permanent. In fact, it lasts only 8 days (7 in Israel) but we should try to live in the Sukkah as in our (“permanent”) home. We eat, study, play, sing, (some even sleep) inside the Sukkah. In other words, we have at the same time temporality and permanency.

This message of Sukkot applies to the whole year. We are in a temporary world, where everything changes constantly. Our environment changes and we change as well. Sometimes the changes are good, sometimes they are better… The only truly permanent thing is G-d and what He asks from us. Our role is to bring this permanency – G-d – in our temporary environment.

Sukkot reminds us to thing again about the way we approach our lives. What are the temporary things in our life, and what are the permanent ones? Does the way we utilize our possessions, our time, our money and our energy correspond to our priorities?

Let us deal with the permanent things in our life as they deserve, and with the temporary things not more than necessary. Let us bring the permanent G-d inside the limits of our temporary world.

Chag Sameach!


Can we change the past? - Yom Kippur

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The 10 Days between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur are called the “10 Days of Teshuva”. Teshuva means repentance and return to G-d. G-d is very near us during these days and it is an ideal opportunity for Teshuva.

How is it done? Can we rewrite the history and the past?

There are two ways with which G-d governs our world: through His names “Elo-him” and “Hava-ya”. The name “Elo-him” is the regular, natural rule in the world: time and space are differentiated. I cannot be simultaneously on Monday and Thursday in Athens and Larissa. On the other hand, the name “Hava-ya” is higher and beyond time and space. They are creations of G-d and He is therefore is not limited by them.

Normally, when we connect to G-d through the name “Elo-im”, we have the freedom of choice only regarding our future. Our past is already determined.

But when we make a proper Teshuva, we connect to G-d through the name “Hava-ya”, which means that we go beyond the limits of time. That is, we have the possibility to influence not only our future but also our past.  

How does it happen exactly? For example, if someone killed someone else, will the Teshuva make the dead person come back to life? No. The past will not change, but we will be able to see it in a different way, to give it a different meaning.

Basically, what is the problematic part of the killing? Is it the result, i.e the death of the victim? No. Only G-d decides how long each person will live. G-d had decided that this person would die. But no one asked the murderer to do it. Since he chose to do it from his free will, he must be punished. But the victim would have died anyway at this exact moment.

Then, is the problematic part the action in itself, i.e the killing? No. Sometimes, this very action constitutes our obligation, for instance, in case of self-defense or to defend others in danger.

The problem is the intention of the killer. At the specific moment, he did something that was contrary to G-d’s will. It was a moment when he “disconnected” from G-d.

This is something that we can change with a true and deep Teshuva that originates from a great love towards G-d. When connecting to the name “Hava-ya” which is beyond time, the sinner can change the intention and the meaning of his act. In this case, the sin is transformed into something that amplifies and deepens his yearning for G-d, something that pushes him to become a better person. Metaphorically, the Teshuva transforms the sin into “fuel” for becoming closer to G-d. It is not anymore, a moment when he was disconnected from G-d, but a significant moment that strengthened his connection to G-d.

Let us imagine for instance, that the person understood the severity of his action and establishes an institution that saves many lives. The action in his past has now a different meaning, since thanks to his Teshuva, many people were saved. (This is in addition to the appropriate punishment for his crime and compensation for the victims).

It is not easy to accomplish such a deep Teshuva, but we can all try. Let us take our sins from the past and utilize them as motivation and energy to do more good deeds.

Gmar Chatima Tova Leshana Tova Umetuka,


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