Selected Sermon/Article
2001-10-09 Simchas Torah - Shmini Atzeres/Yizkor by Rav Ze'ev Smason
Happily Ever After
Chaim was working quietly in his life insurance office, when an elderly Sephardi Jew walked through the door asking about buying some insurance. "How old are you?" Chaim asked?"I'm 87," the man replied. "87?" Chaim said. "I'm sorry to tell you this, sir, but we don't sell life insurance to people who are 87.""You don't?", the man said. "Well, just last week, you sold life insurance to my father. And if you can sell my father life insurance, you can certainly sell life insurance to me." After a quick look at his records, Chaim saw that he had, indeed, sold the man's father some life insurance. Therefore, he told the man to come back next Tuesday for a physical."I can't come back next Tuesday for a physical," the man said."Why not?", asked Chaim.The man said, "Because next Tuesday, my grandfather is getting married."

"Now wait a minute," Chaim said. "Let me get this right. You're 87 years old. I just sold your father life insurance last week. And you can't take a physical next Tuesday because your grandfather is getting married. How old is this grandfather of yours?""My grandfather is 122," the man said. Chaim blurted out, 'Why in the world would your grandfather, who is 122, want to get married?"The man said, 'Because my grandfather's parents keep hocking him a chinuk to get out of the house!"

Some families seem to be blessed with incredible long life. When it comes to longevity, however, there's no one who can beat the record of the Jewish people. Remarkably, we've existed as a people for over 3300 years. Do you remember the old 'Timex Watch' commercials, where all sorts of destructive things were done to Timex Watches, but they 'kept on ticking?' The Jewish people are the 'Timex Watch' of human history; while the others have '"taken a licking" we just "keep on ticking."

What's the secret of our success? How have we managed to 'stay in business' for over three millennia? The answer to that question, of course, can be found on the parchment of the Torah scrolls that we'll be dancing with tonight on Simchas Torah. The secret of the longevity of the Jewish people is -- the Torah.

Simchas Torah -- who doesn't enjoy Simchas Torah? The candy apples! The spaghetti dinner! (The free spaghetti dinner) The songs we'll be singing as we dance tonight and tomorrow with the Sifrei Torah! If there's one day a year to come to shul, surely, Simchas Torah is that day. One of the songs that we'll be singing on Simchas Torah is based upon a familiar verse from tomorrow's Torah reading: "Torah tziva lanu Moshe, morasha l'kheelas Ya'akov" (Deuteronomy 33:4.) "The Torah that Moshe commanded us is the heritage of the congregation of Jacob." You might find it of interest to know, ladies and gentlemen, that the Hebrew word for 'heritage' -- morasha -- carries with it a deeper meaning. The word morasha can be read as if it was spelled and pronounced m'orasa -- married. In other words, as the Talmud tells us, the Torah is not simply a 'heritage'; the Torah and the Jewish people are considered like bride and groom.

What does it mean that we're 'married to the Torah'? How is a deeper connection implied by being 'married to the Torah' rather than the Torah simply being our 'heritage'? It seems to me that a 'heritage' can be described as something that we feel obligated to preserve and pass down to our children and grandchildren. As Tevya might say, Judaism is 'tradition.' The problem is, though, that if the Torah is only a 'heritage,' upon what basis can we ask our children and grandchildren to be loyal to the Torah, and to the Jewish way of life? Because it's a 'heritage'? Because of 'tradition'?

You may be familiar with the story of the mother and daughter who were in the kitchen preparing for Shabbos. When the daughter asked her mother why she cut the end of the chicken off before putting it into the pot, her mother replied, "because that's what my mother did when she made the chicken." The daughter said, "Why did grandma do that, Mother?" The mother said, "I'm not sure -- let me call her and ask." So, the mother got on the phone, and asked her mother why she cut the end off the chicken before it was put into the pot, whereupon she replied, " Because my mother used to do that!" Well, that Sunday, the three generations went to visit Great-grandma at the nursing home -- the great-granddaughter, the granddaughter, and the daughter. They popped the question, asking her why when she was preparing chicken on Erev Shabbos, would she cut the end of the chicken off. Great-Grandma said, "In my day, we used to have very small pots, and a whole chicken wouldn't fit into the pot!"

Tradition can only take us so far. If my grandfather ate with a wooden spoon, should I eat with a wooden spoon? If my grandfather traveled by horse and buggy, should I use the same means of transportation? When Moshe tells us that the Torah is a m'orasa -- that we're 'married' to the Torah, in addition to it being a 'heritage -- he's telling us that just like marriage is serious business, our relationship to the Torah should also be serious. Imagine a newlywed husband who after 2 months of marriage tells his wife, “Listen, honey, I really don't have that much time for you right now, but I plan to drop by the house to see you on some weekends and around the holidays. Oh yeah, and also when we have children we'll spend more time together.�

How long do you think a relationship like that would last? Moshe is telling the Jewish people that our religion is more than a 'Fiddler On the Roof Judaism.' He's telling us we have to take it very seriously, much the same way you had better take your wife seriously. Don’t just "show up for the holidays." Don't just “pop in� on the weekends. Moses is telling us that we, the Jewish people, are betrothed to the Torah. We are not just 'a people of the book� — we’re married to it. And marriage is serious business, that involves commitment. There was a comic strip in which one character says, "You know, it's odd, but now that I'm actually engaged, I'm starting to feel nervous about getting married!" The other character replies, "I know what you're thinking. It's only natural to be nervous! After all, marriage is a big commitment -- seven or eight years can be a long time!"

Yizkor is a time to reassess our commitments. With our hearts and minds filled with loving feelings and thoughts of our dear departed ones, we remember that which is important to us; among which, is our shul. Simchas Torah is a time for candy apples, spaghetti dinners, and dancing with the Sifrei Torah. Simchas Torah is also a time to reassess our commitment; are we uncommitted casual partners to the Torah and the Jewish way of life, or are we committed marriage partners, who are in it for the long haul? May we and our families have a truly joyous Yom Tov this Shmini Atzeres and Simchas Torah. And may we all live happily ever after with the Torah - our morasha - our heritage, and our m'orasa -- our betrothed.

Good Yom Tov--

adapted in part from an essay wriitten by Rabbi David Zauderer of the Atlanta Scholars Kollel