September 2016

Of the Book

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By Daniel Bortz

In the late 18th century, there lived a special Jew named Shmuel Munkis. Whenever the high holidays would near on the calendar, Shmuel would prepare to travel to his beloved teacher the Alter Rebbe for the inspiration he needed to approach these holy days properly. One year, Shmuel encountered a problem: He was broke. Anyone who wanted to travel a great distance in those days without a wagon had to travel by foot, even in the freezing Russian winter; and undeterred, Shmuel set off on the long journey.

As he trudged along the side of the road under torrents of snow, a wagon pulled up beside him. The driver called out to Shmuel and asked him his destination. Seeing as they were heading in the same path, he offered him a ride. Lucky as he was to find a lift, Shmuel was forced to sit on the back of the wagon under the open sky among the driver’s barrels of liquor. Freezing, he called out to the driver and asked permission to take a small drink from one of the barrels. As he sipped from his cup, Shmuel finally began to feel warmth flow through his body.

When he reached his Rebbe’s town, Shmuel ran straight into the central synagogue and called his friends over, and explained: “I learned something powerful on my journey here. I came to realize that we can be surrounded by potential warmth, but if we fail to internalize that warmth, we will always remain cold.”

We have access to oxygen everywhere, but to enjoy its benefits we have to actually breathe it in. Standing by the pool on a hot day will not cool us off. Similarly, in life we are given special moments of potential inspiration and wisdom at our doorstep waiting to be felt and internalized. The month of Tishrei is a unique spiritual time full of opportunities at our fingertips. Even the atmosphere is uplifted. The Divine Presence is always close by, but obstacles that might usually challenge our feelings of connection are temporarily lifted at this time and the pathway is clear. The special words of prayer, soundings of the ram’s horn, outdoor dwellings of the Sukkah huts and the other traditions of this month are all opportunities to internalize our Jewish feeling of spiritual connection.

Emunah – faith, stems from the word amon – craftsman. Like a silversmith who beats on his sword, it takes continual awareness and work to internalize spiritual ideas. If we’re moved during a special moment, it is important to really connect and identify with it, to internalize and bring that awareness into our daily lives. We know that any relationship worth having needs constant nurturing and effort. And always, but especially at this time of year, let’s remember that our connection with the Divine is as accessible as the air we breathe and as sweet and invigorating as a warm drink on a cold winter’s night.

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