Selected Sermon/Article
2005-10-23 Shmini Atzeres drasha 5766/2005 by Rav Ze'ev Smason
Overcoming Spiritual Vertigo
Shmini Atzeres drasha 5766/2005 "Overcoming Spiritual Vertigo"

A true story is told of an Israeli fighter pilot who was assigned as the leader of an attack team. The pilot's job was to identify enemy positions and transmit the information to the attack planes behind him. Then, all that was left to do was to pull his F-16 sharply up and away from the path of the missiles that were to follow him and hit the target.

A near tragedy once occurred when the pilot became disoriented by the effects of vertigo. Without realizing it, he had flipped his plane upside down as he approached his next attack point.

The pilot saw the target and, as he pulled back on his controls, his eyes looked on in disbelief at his instrument panel. The panel showed that his plane was flying in a downward direction and was within seconds of crashing into the ground. His back-up instruments confirmed the reading, but his mind refused to accept the information on the panel, because he was confused from the vertigo. In other words, his instruments said he was flying upside down, but his intuition and senses said he was flying right side up.

Thinking quickly, the pilot radioed his pursuit plane and asked for an evaluation of his position. Yes, came the voice over his radio: he was in diving sharply and only seconds away from impact.

The pilot faced a dilemma, and had only a moment to make a decision. Which should he trust: his interior senses or external objective information? Should he trust his heart or his head?

The pilot later described how what he did next was the hardest thing he had ever done in his life. He pushed his controls forward, convinced with every ounce of intuition that he was committing suicide by driving his plane into the ground. Instead, he pulled safely out of his dive and lived to tell this true story.

The Yomim Tovim around this time of year can be draining. There was the month of Elul, two days of Rosh Hashana, Aseres Y'may tshuva, and Yom Kippur. They were all rewarding and meaningful, but -- be honest -- didn't you get a little tired by the time everything was over? So; the shofar blows at the end of neilah, we take a deep breath, and say to ourselves, ''s over. Finally a chance to rest a bit."

However, just when we think the holidays are completed, there comes Sukkos 4 days later. And then at the end of Sukkos, Hoshana Rabba comes to catch us by surprise. And then, when we're certain things must be over and we're ready to get back to our regular routine, comes along another two days of Yom Tov, with Shmini Atzeres.

We all have fun on Simchas Torah with the dancing and candy apples -- and of course, the free spaghetti dinner at NHBZ. But perhaps we experience what could be described as 'spiritual vertigo.' Not only may we feel 'Yom Tov Burn Out', but we might not understand what we're supposed to accomplish on Sukkos and Shmini Atzeres. How can we orient ourselves so that we're not flying upside down, and find ourselves feeling, chas v'shalom, that Sukkos and Shmini Atzeres are a chore, rather than a joy?

Pilots and navigators know that wherever they are, however lost or disoriented they may be, there's still hope. How? They can always get their bearings back as long as they can find three points of reference. By triangulating on the sun, moon, and stars, they can calculate their location and chart their way home.

As the Jewish people have traveled through time and history, we have always had three reference points that we've used to find our bearings. These are the Shalosh Regalim or, the three major Yomim Tovim.:Pesach, Shevous, and Sukkos. Through the observance of these festivals, the Jew always knows, and always has known, where he is and where he is going.

Perhaps now isn't the format to discuss how Pesach and Shevous fit into this scheme. However, it's worthwhile to share a few thoughts how Sukkos and Shmini Atzeres work as 'reference points' for our successful navigation of the spiritual world.

As the summer ended and the cooler days of Autumn began, we moved out of our homes with their clutter of TVs, computers and climate-controlled environments to eat and dwell in the Sukkah. Our modest sukkahs with roofs of leaves and branches remind us that only Hashem protects us, just as He protected our ancestors in the desert many years ago. We're reminded that ultimately, we're not masters of our own Universe; but only Hashem is.

And that after the forgiveness and atonement of Yom Kippur, we rejoice in our "clean slate" and new found closeness in our relationships with Hashem.

In a few moments we'll begin to say 'mashiv ha'ruach u'morid ha'geshem' in Musaf. Of course the simple reason is to pray for rain. But but on a deeper level, we see that winter is coming . People become sad and depressed, and the days become shorter and darker. We pray mashiv haruach- uplift the spiritual, umorid hageshem- bring down the physical, so that we can continue the simcha and closeness to Hashem that we've worked so hard to achieve during Yom Kippur, throughout the winter as well.

Sukkos and Shmini Atzeres, then, come to put the final coat of paint on the beautifully constructed home that we've built throughout Elul and the High Holidays. Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur are 'Days of Awe'. Sukkos and Shmini Atzeres are 'Days of Joy.' These holidays are 'reference points' for our renewed faith and trust in Hashem. We rejoice in our clean spiritual slate. And we rejoice in the Torah that we've completed reading over the course of the year, and look forward to beginning a new cycle of the reading of the Torah, tomorrow.

So, by keeping these reference points in sight, we'll never suffer 'spiritual vertigo' or 'Yom Tov Burn-Out.' It might seem at times in life that we're flying upside down. However, if we thoughtfully observe the Torah as we go through our annual cycle of holidays, we may experience some turbulence, but we'll never become completely lost.

based upon an article by Rabbi Yonason Goldson