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Sukkat Shalom B'nei Noach




“This day, the L-rd your G-d commands you to perform these statutes and these decrees, and you shall observe and perform them with all of your heart and all of your soul” (Deuteronomy 26:16)

Since the Torah was given at Mount Sinai, what is meant by “this day the L-rd your G-d commands you”?  Shouldn’t the verse say, “that day”?  Picking up on the seeming discrepancy, Rashi (loc. cit.) quotes the first chapter of Midrash Tanchuma, as follows: “each day the commandments should be in your eyes like new, as if this very day you were commanded about them”.  

What is it about the quality of newness that is so important?  I think we are generally accustomed to holding the Torah and its contents as venerable and ancient in our minds, like exceptionally valuable heirlooms that have been in our families forever, that, despite (or perhaps because of) their antiquity, we would never get rid of them.  We rely on this vintage element to buoy our commitment.  Yet our sages urged us to experience the Torah as entirely new every day, not to base today’s commitment upon thousands of years of history.  

I heard Tony Robbins speak about the idea that a sense of certainty is one of the basic human needs.  For this reason, people do what is, actually, inane; they keep returning to the same experiences over and over again.  People will watch the same movie over and over again, despite the fact that they know exactly what is going to happen.  But they enjoyed it already, they know it’s good, and they know that they can expect the same result each time.  Homeostasis.  A sense of certainty.  The fact is, however, it is only when a person steps into the realm of uncertainty that he or she really begins to live, to be exhilarated by the glimmer of possibility.  Not knowing how things will turn out, accepting a higher level of risk, may create anxiety, but also offers the possibility of much greater engagement with one’s life experience and, potentially, higher returns.  

In this week’s parsha, G-d is telling us on the one hand not to allow our relationship with Him to gather dust, and on the other hand to expand our awareness beyond simply having been in this conversation for lengths of time.  It should not matter whether we’ve been doing this for fifty years or fifty minutes.  Just as we praise G-d for “renewing the work of creation every day in His Goodness” (liturgy), we have to realize that the Torah is brand new every time we come into contact with it.  We’ve never seen it before, not on this level, not at this depth.

And this theme is set into motion from the beginning of the parsha, with the mitzvah of bikkurim, the commandment to sanctify and offer one’s first fruits to G-d.  The experience of “firstness” is critical to virtually all aspects of our lives.  Whether it is the first day of school, the first time looking into the eyes of one’s spouse, the day of birth, or confronting a blank but expectant canvas, the moment where all is new and all potential lies ahead of us is something that we must bring forth to each successive moment in our lives.  It is the secret for renewing all that is near and dear to us and, most importantly, connects us to G-d, Who “is One, and there is no second” (Adon Olam).  It is also the key to doing what we do with all our hearts and souls”.

May we be blessed to approach every moment with freshness of spirit.

Good Shabbos! Shabbat Shalom!

By Rabbi Tani Burton

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