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We too are capable of an awakening

01/14/2022 02:32:18 PM

Jan14

Rabbi Benjamin Samuels

 ט”ו בשבט הגיע - Tu Bishvat has arrived! It is hard for us to imagine here in cold and windy New England that in Israel, the land of eternal promise, the almond trees are blossoming - השקדיה פורחת. From the holy soil of Israel, nature’s annual awakening beckons to us. This past week, I began to teach Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto’s Mesillat Yesharim - The Path of the Upright, a classic of Mussar  Literature (ethical & spiritual self-help). Notably, Rabbi Soloveitchik’s tz”l Brisker family tradition was to avoid the study of Mussar and find spiritual advancement in the standard study of Torah. In Halakhic Man (p. 75), Rabbi Soloveitchik recounts his famous rabbinical grandfather likening Mussar to medicine: “R. Hayyim replied: ‘If a person is sick we prescribe castor oil for him.  However, it is certain that if a healthy person ingests castor oil he will become very sick.’ We in Volozhin, thank God, are healthy in spirit and body, are whole in our Torah; there is no need here for castor oil.” 

    My dear friends, even if Rabbi Soloveitchik’s depiction of Mussar is correct, is it not a moment in our personal and communal lives for Mussar? Even if we have thus far avoided contracting COVID (as many unfortunately already have), how can we not be “sick”? It has been two and a half years of pandemic living. We have a generation of children, teens and younger, who have missed out on “normal” Jewish communal life and spiritual practice during precious formative years. Adults have fallen out of rich religious practice. We have been unable to gather regularly as a large community for in-person Torah study and tefillah. We have not had full Shabbat tables with relatives, friends and guests. And even though our amazing community has tried, each of us in our own ways, to continue to daven, learn, and perform inspiring acts of chesed and social justice, it is impossible for our dislocation from normative Jewish life and living not to have blunted our full religious awareness. So, while it is yet quite numbingly cold, and still windy with uncertainty, Tu Bishvat has come to remind us that like the blossoms of the almond tree, we too are capable of an awakening. Whether you join our Shul’s study of Mussar or seek another spiritual pathway, let us recognize that our religious health and wellbeing can only awaken by the flowering of our religious commitments and righteous actions! 

      Shabbat Shalom, wishing one and all a rejuvenating Tu Bishvat and an energizing MLKJ observance, Rav Benjie

Tue, September 27 2022 2 Tishrei 5783