On the Front Lines of Our Lives

Every year, Shabbos Bereishis is an opportunity for a fresh start. This Shabbos was supposed to be a new beginning; a return to routines and schedules. Of course, this is not the beginning that any of us were hoping for.

Nevertheless, as Jews who are מאמינים בני מאמינים, we know and understand that Hashem is calling us to start anew in a very different way. Our world has changed since Simchas Torah 5784, and so we must change as well.

There are many things that we can do, despite our distance from from miles and oceans away; and I am constantly inspired by the enormity of our Kehilla's generosity, unity and Tefillos. But an addition to directing our focus outwards, we need to focus our Avoda inwards. Make no mistake: This Avoda is just as essential for our nation and Chayalim.

Your Mitzvos Make a Difference

We are tempted by the Yezter Hara to believe that in times of nation crisis our personal mitzvos and observance are less important. We know that our soldiers are doing important work, as well as the volunteers on the ground, the medics and intelligence agencies. We imagine that our role is relegated to supplying and supporting them.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

The Shelah HaKadosh (מסכת יומא קצד) explains:

יש רצים אחרים בסטרא אחרא שרצים להרע לישראל ולהכניע מזלם לשלוט עליהם... וכשהאדם רודף אחר המצות ברגליו ושוקיו, נותן כח וחיל לאלו הרצים הקדושים שימהרו מרוצתם ויגברו על הרצים החצונים.

There are those who run to do the work of the “other side”, the side of evil, running to destroy the Jewish people. Sometimes, when the evil ones run with strength, they are able to succeed. But when a Jew uses their legs to run to do a mitzvah they give strength to the Runners of Kedusha, that they are able to move swiftly and overcome their enemies.

With a profound understanding that all of Klal Yisrael is One, the mitzvos that we do with our legs give power to our Chayalim. The mitzvos we do with our eyes give them the ability to see further. The mitzvos we do with our hands helps to steady their hands and strengthen them to fight for us.

This is true for everything that we do, Torah, Tefillah and Chessed. For this Shabbos, however, there is one Mitzvah that I invite you to upgrade: Havdalah. Most weeks we rush through it, without much thought. But for Shabbos Bereishis in particular, there is a deep Avoda in making Havdalah.

Make Havdalah with Kavana this Week

This Shabbos at BRS West, we are inviting the entire community to Shaloshudis, leaning and Havdalah. Specifically, I want to say Havdalah together – ברוב עם – as a community.

We are living in a world where the difference between good and evil is not obvious. Of course, we are certainly grateful to the many world leaders in the US and beyond that have stated their unequivocal support for Israel. But we are equally conscious of the many in the US and around the world who are justifying and celebrating the horrors perpetrated against us.

The Torah tells us this week that Hashem created Light in a world of Darkness and then: וַיַּבְדֵּל אֱלֹקים בֵּין הָאוֹר וּבֵין הַחֹשֶׁךְ – God separated the light from the darkness.

The Medrash Rabba (בראשית רבה ג׳:ח) explains this separation as it pertains to our Avoda today:

אָמַר רַבִּי יַנַּאי מִתְּחִלַּת בְּרִיָּתוֹ שֶׁל עוֹלָם צָפָה הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא מַעֲשֵׂיהֶן שֶׁל צַדִּיקִים וּמַעֲשֵׂיהֶם שֶׁל רְשָׁעִים, וְהָאָרֶץ הָיְתָה תֹהוּ, אֵלּוּ מַעֲשֵׂיהֶם שֶׁל רְשָׁעִים. וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים יְהִי אוֹר, אֵלּוּ מַעֲשֵׂיהֶן שֶׁל צַדִּיקִים. וַיַּבְדֵּל אֱלֹהִים בֵּין הָאוֹר וּבֵין הַחשֶׁךְ, בֵּין מַעֲשֵׂיהֶן שֶׁל צַדִּיקִים לְמַעֲשֵׂיהֶן שֶׁל רְשָׁעִים.

Rabbi Yanai said: Right from the beginning of the creation of the world, the Holy One blessed be He foresaw the actions of the righteous and the actions of the wicked. “The earth was emptiness” (Genesis 1:2) – these are the actions of the wicked. “God said: Let there be light” (Genesis 1:3) – these are the actions of the righteous. “God distinguished between the light and the darkness” (Genesis 1:4) – between the actions of the righteous and the actions of the wicked.

Apparently, since the beginning of all existence, there was a need to separate, to differentiate and to distinguish between good and evil, light and dark, night and day. Without this differentiation, our values remain intermingled and fraught. It is unclear who fights for light and who for darkness.

Rabbeinu Bachya (שלחן של ארבע שער א) explains that when we make Havdalah, we are partnering with Hashem in recreating the world. But what kind of world do we want to create?

Now more than ever, we need to rebuild a world that can see the difference between light and darkness, between the Jewish people and our enemies. And we need to entrench this truth within ourselves.

We need to know and believe that our cause is true, that we run and fight for Hashem and His Torah. There will almost certainly come a time in the coming day and weeks when the world will tell us to “show restraint”. They will challenge the line between light and dark, day and night.

When that day comes, our nation will need to find the resolve to make “Havalah” between good and evil. We will need to fight when they tell us that day is night and night is day.

How to Make Havdalah When the World is Confused

If we aim to ensure that the world sees the difference between light and dark, we need to take the next steps: בֵּין אוֹר לְחֹשֶׁךְ, בֵּין יִשְׂרָאֵל לָעַמִּים, בֵּין יוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי לְשֵׁשֶׁת יְמֵי הַמַּעֲשֶׂה – between light and darkness, between Klal Yisrael and the nations, between Shabbos and the six days of the week.

At this critical junction in history, Hashem is knocking on the door reminding us that there is a difference between Klal Yisrael and the nations of the world. He is reminding us of our mission and sacred bond to each other. Chas V'Shalom that any of us should denigrate, hurt or insult another Jew. It is not a secret that the roots of exile are in Sinas Chinam – baseless hatred; and the roots of redemption are in unity. Now is the time to put every disagreement and opinion aside and find the common ground of being Klal Yisrael – children of Hashem.

Between Shabbos and the Six Days of the Week

The final stage of Havdalah is knowing that truth and unity are not enough. Once we have stood up for light and truth, and recommitted to unity, we state emphatically that cannot do it alone. Of course, for six days we are obligated to work, we must put in our maximum effort, but on Shabbos we turn to the Master of all World and declare: You are the One in charge!

Shabbos is the eternal reminder: וְזָכַרְתָּ אֶת־ה' אֱלֹהֶיךָ כִּי הוּא הַנֹּתֵן לְךָ כֹּחַ לַעֲשׂוֹת חָיִל – Remember that it Hashem, your God who gives you the power to achieve victory.

On that Pasuk (דברים ח:יח), the Ramban teaches us:

ידוע כי ישראל גבורים ואנשי חיל למלחמה כי נמשלו לאריות ולזאב יטרף ומלכי כנען במלחמה נצחו אותם על כן אמר אם תחשוב כחי ועצם ידי עשה לי את החיל הזה תזכור השם שהוציא אותך ממצרים ולא היה לך שם כח ועצם יד כלל

It is known that Klal Yisrael are mighty men, valiant men for the war and they are likened to lions and to a ravenous wolf. They vanquished the Canaanite kings in battle. Therefore Moshe says, “If you should think, ‘my power and the might of my hand has gotten me this wealth,’ you should remember God Who brought you out from Egypt where you had no power or might of hand at all.

B'ezras Hashem, we should soon see Hashem making the Havdalah we all so desperately need: וָאַבְדִּל אֶתְכֶם מִן־הָעַמִּים לִהְיוֹת לִי – Hashem will separate us from our enemies and once again become His.