This Week, I Peeked Through the Window of Time
We all thought we were done with this. Finally, we had rounded the corner, COVID was in the rear view mirror. And then there is a new wave, a new variant, a new Greek letter to learn. Israel is once again closed to the Jews of the Diaspora, and the were it not for the pain, loneliness, loss and sickness, this whole saga would seem comical.
Perhaps most frustratingly, the plans we make are scuttled, and we feel as if control over our own lives is continuously snatched away.
At its core, this deep incongruity, so profoundly amplified in the past two years, is emblematic of our world and our place within it. We are constantly trying to find balance, harmony and predictability in a world that seems antagonistic towards any attempts of orderliness.
Understanding and contending with this schism between us and our world is a deep tradition in Chazal. The resolution of it is a closely guarded secret that our sages called it the סוד העיבור – the secret of the Leap Year.
This year, is a leap year; there will be two months of Adar, and a total of 13 months in our year. The reason we have this institution is to bring together the two cycles that given our natural world – the Solar Cycle, and the Lunar Cycle. These two cycles do not line up well. There are roughly 11 days difference between them, and this discrepancy is paradigmatic of our lives. Things just don't match up well, forcing us to constantly tweak and adjust our calendar: Seven times in every nineteen year cycle, we add an additional month.
The Shelah HaKadosh (הקדמה לספר שמות) explains that the period of time from now until Adar (שובבי״ם ת״ת) is a unique opportunity for personal and universal Teshuva. Indeed, being that this is a leap year, we are actively working on restoring balance and harmony in the world. Reb Tzadok (פרי צדיק ר״ח אדר י׳) explains that our collective realignment of time in a leap year is a window into a world that will finally make sense. The Torah reading of weeks are the story of our exile and redemption, and we have the opportunity – and challenge – to experience that story ourselves in our generation.
Hidden behind our constant tweaking of time is the conviction that meaning, balance, harmony and alignment, are possible. In the deepest way, it's a testament to our understanding that the world is not random, that Hashem is taking us somewhere; that beneath the noise and madness there is a latent unity and a destination for the universe. We simply have to adjust ourselves to make it work. Even in the confusion of this world, we can achieve small moments of clarity; windows that allow us to see what could and will be when Hashem heals the world of its inconsistencies and imperfections.
In different way, we have all felt these snippets of clarity. Sometimes they hit us in the face – other times we need to look carefully to spot them. Sometimes it takes months or years to finally understand the purpose of some seemingly random or adverse event. Sometimes, we never do. But our history has shown one indisputable truth: Nothing in Jewish history is truly random.
Perhaps the greatest moment of personal clarity in the Torah was when Yosef HaTzadik finally understands the reason for his life in Egypt. Despite every overwhelming and antagonistic adversary standing in his way, Yosef rose to become the savior of Mitzrayim and the provider for his family, the nascent Jewish people. All of this, of course, was the set up for an eventual fulfillment of the promise that Hashem made to Avraham: “Your children will be strangers... and then they will leave will immense wealth.”
Anyone who knows the story of Yosef, knows that there is nothing that stands in the way of Jewish destiny. Somehow, every single event is woven into the masterful tapestry of our past, present and future, and there are simply no coincidences. With this in mind, we might understand the fatal mistake of Paroah in his attempt to destroy us:
There arose a new king over Egypt – אֲשֶׁר לֹא יָדַע אֶת יוֹסֵף – who didn’t know Yosef.
Obviously, as Chazal and all the Rishonim note, he did know Yosef. Perhaps then, what he didn't know was the story of Yosef. He didn't know how Yosef was the least likely person to ever assume leadership in Mitzrayim, and that against these awesome odds, Hashem's plans prevailed.
Were it to be the Paroah did know Yosef's story, he might have thought twice before challenging the One pulling the strings. A careful look into history would have revealed that Jewish destiny is outside of human hands.
Every now and then, if we're looking carefully, we too can see the strings being pulled as well. Sometimes in large ways, sometimes, quite small. For me, this insight of אֲשֶׁר לֹא יָדַע אֶת יוֹסֵף is a perfect example in itself.
This understanding of the Pasuk is not my own chiddush. Late on Tuesday night I stumbled across this idea quoted in the name of the Sefer Zichron Aharon – a book with which I was not familiar. I liked the idea, and did some digging online to find the original Sefer, and some information about its author. The author, I discovered, was Rabbi Aharon HaKohen Kohn, who, as the title page displayed, came from a place called נאדי־מעדיער – or Nagymegyer, which I had never heard of. Some further research revealed that he was a Hungarian born Rabbi and businessman. A student of Rabbi Yehuda Aszod, and a contemporary of the Chasam Sofer.
What struck me as incredible was the dedication offered by his children. In place of a copyright, was the request to share the Sefer far and wide in honor of their father. But reading the inscription found in the introduction to the original printing of the Sefer was tiny window into Hashem's world behind the scenes:
“We are distributing this Sefer of our father and grandfather amongst those that knew our father, and those who love his Torah. And we request of all those who receive this Sefer to remember our father – Aharon ben Genendel – on the day of his Yahrzeit. The 18th Day of the month Teves. And to learn Mishnayos in his honor...”
Tuesday night, of course, was the 18th day of the month of Teves.
I don't know if there were any other Jews learning his Torah on his Yahrzeit, but clearly, Hashem has a plan. And if the Master of All World wants something to happen, then all of Jewish history tells us there nothing that could prevent it from occurring. I am grateful that I was zocheh to that moment.
So as the news of another variant surfaces, I cannot help thinking that Hashem is taking us somewhere. We may not know the road, but we certainly know the destination. Hashem should help us to arrive there soon, safely, together.