From Where I Stand
By Rabbi Yossy Goldman
Moshe gathered the assembly of the Children of Israel.
Some years ago, in Johannesburg where I live, the United Nations held the International Summit on Sustainable Development. The Summit was a great success. One wonders, though, whether all the wonderful decisions and resolutions that were adopted were ever implemented. In other words, were they themselves sustainable? Good ideas and worthwhile projects are suggested regularly. The question is, do they get off the drawing board? And if they do, how long do they last? What degree of permanence do they enjoy?
“Moshe gathered the assembly of the Children of Israel”—these are the opening words of Parashas Vayakhel. Rashi tells us that this day of assembly was the day after Yom Kippur. Moshe came down from Mount Sinai on Yom Kippur bearing the message of G‑d’s forgiveness for the sin of the Golden Calf. The next day, he gathered the people and commanded them to build the Sanctuary.
Why is it important to know that this was the day after Yom Kippur? Perhaps it is because while on Yom Kippur everyone is holy, the challenge is to be good after Yom Kippur. It is relatively easy to be holy on the holiest day of the year. The test of faith is to maintain our good behavior in the days and weeks following the awesome, sacred experience. Will we still be inspired, or will our enthusiasm have waned straight after Ne’ilah? How many synagogues are filled to capacity on Yom Kippur and struggle for a minyan the next morning? A son says Kaddish for his father or mother faithfully—for the week of shivah. And then? Or perhaps he comes to shul regularly and recites Kaddish for the full 11 months. And the next day he’s gone. And it’s not only about shul; it’s about life. What happens after the honeymoon? Or the first anniversary? Do we have the commitment and the staying power to be in for the long haul?
Many people get inspired at one time or another. Over the years, I’ve seen hundreds of men and women go through a phase of dedicated Jewish living only to see them fall back on old habits and lifestyles. And it wasn’t because their commitment faltered, but because they did not implement a sustainable program for that commitment to thrive.
Take Shabbat. A person experiences a real sense of Shabbat for the very first time in his or her life. Then again, and again, until they decide that they really want this for themselves. It’s so serene, so spiritual, and so special. So they commit to keeping Shabbat. They start walking to shul every Saturday. There’s only one problem. They live three miles from the shul that inspired them. Okay, it’s not impossible to walk three miles; lots of people do it every day to keep in shape. So, as long as they are still on a spiritual high, it works, but the reality is that it is simply not sustainable. If they don’t move closer to their favorite shul, something will snap.
I remember a couple that went so far as to buy an apartment near the shul and they moved in every weekend. They managed for a while but even that was not sustainable. It became a bothersome schlep to have to move out every Friday and move back every Saturday night. It just didn’t last.
So this is a call not only to maintain the momentum of our spiritual inspiration but also to take practical steps to do so. To succeed in the long term, we must have a pragmatic plan, a realistic, workable, achievable program to see us through to the end. Otherwise, G‑d forbid, our fervent feelings of the moment may turn out a flash in the pan. Let us be inspired enough to make sure our inspiration lasts. v
Rabbi Yossy Goldman was born in Brooklyn and was sent in 1976 by the Lubavitcher Rebbe as an emissary to serve the Jewish community of Johannesburg, South Africa. He is Senior Rabbi of the Sydenham Shul and president of the South African Rabbinical Association. His sefer “From Where I Stand: Life Messages from the Weekly Torah Reading” was published by Ktav and is available at Jewish book shops or online at www.ktav.com.