What a great time of the year! Children are running out of the classrooms and into the summer fun. Be careful not to get in their way…or you'll be sorry. Just as the classic Talmudic commentator Tosfot described the Jewish people when leaving Mount Sinai after receiving the Torah, "In journeying away from Mount Sinai, they [the Jews] acted like children running away from the school house." Take it from me, that’s a place you don't want to be!
I too love this time of year—the long days, the warm (hopefully not too hot) weather, and the opportunity to ride my bike. As I plan my summer each year, I look at the major dates on the calendar. When do my children begin and end camp; when is visiting day, the 4th of July, the beginning of the school year, and the “three weeks.” Last summer when I was speaking to an acquaintance he asked me: "Why do the three weeks have to come out during the summer? Couldn't they have been scheduled in the middle of February, when everyone is huddled in their homes keeping warm?" I could have given a joking response of “I guess G-d wasn't a very good summer vacation planner,” but I refrained because I was afraid he might agree with me. However, the question still stands—is it coincidence that the tragedies of the destructions of the Temples both occurred during the summer, or is there a message behind the reality that the darkest times in Jewish history coincide with the brightest days on the calendar?
I would like to propose a possible explanation to these coinciding events that are seemingly coincidental. The summer months are characteristically cheerful and carefee. People kick back, relax, and enjoy a glass of lemonade. However, that atmosphere, which is vital to everyone's mental health and well-being, has been known to lead people off their personal growth track. We see a similar seasonal structure in regards to Sukkot. As the gemara (Sukkah 51a) tells us: "Anyone who has not seen the Simchat Beit HaShoava (Festival of the Water Libations), has never seen true simcha in his life.” It is precisely during Sukkot, which is referred to as the Zman Simchateinu (Season of Joy), that we read the somber book of Kohelet. Our Rabbis teach us that the reason we readKohelet at such a joyful time of year is in order to help us keep our simcha in check. Similarly, just as we go through our summer fun, we must remember that we are still yearning for our shared national goal of returning to our homeland with the Beit Hamikdash standing proud and strong.
One of the focuses of this time of year is to remember our nation’s past in order to set goals for our future. A New Jersey NCSY alumnus, Beth Goldsammler, just published an article about her grandparents who survived and rebuilt their life and their family after the Holocaust (read here). Yes, it is a worthwhile read. However, the only true way to grow now or at any point of the year is through limmud Torah. Rabbi Jack Abramowitz, an alumnus of Long Island NCSY, has just published an incredible work in English on the 613 mitzvos entitled The Taryag Companion, which has deepened my appreciation and understanding of the beauty of our Mitzvot.
Enjoy and let me know your opinions on them.
Take care and have a great summer,
Rabbi Yehoshua Marchuck