Blog Shemini Atzeret By Mauricio Quintero
Says Eikhah – אֵיכָה Lamentations 3: 23: “They are new every morning; great is Thy faithfulness”. God gives us the opportunity to begin anew each day. This should be a reason for rejoicing for all of us, that God inherently created the physical world on earth where each day, we live a miracle: The gift of renewal or regeneration.
Did you know that the human body completely replaces itself in a cycle every 7 to 10 years? God devised the human body to regenerate over a period of time. It is now known that some parts of the body regenerate faster than others. The skin, for example, the outermost protective layer of the body, experiences great wear and tear, so it regenerates every two to three weeks. The liver, when detoxifying the body must regenerate in a period ranging from 150 to 500 days. The stomach and intestines are renewed every five days, while the bones take 10 years. Luis Pasteur said: “a little science takes away from God, but a lot of science returns to Him” or as Anton Zeilinger (Quantum Physicist) said “Some of the things that we discover in Science are so impressive that I have chosen to believe. “
This week the Parashah is called Shemini (Eighth) Atzeret (Assembly). I have discovered that stress makes us vulnerable to unclear thinking, making it hard to vibrate at the correct level, making us tired to the point of wanting to disappear, to not want to know about anything or anyone and just to throw everything away. I admire people who manage their life in a balanced way without losing their joy and peace; I suppose they had to go through the same growing pains that I am going through. My conclusion is that stress comes from the lack of Bitachon, Trust in the Creator, from knowing that He oversees managing the world and not me. When I understand that God runs the world, I am increasingly amazed at the peace that this puts within me, knowing that acting correctly (according to what the Torah teaches us) is the way to move forward.
We just had a joyful week celebrating Sukkot where we remember our vulnerability and our humanity, our internship through life, which is not bad in a general sense but is our reality. We also remember that we have a great God who remembers where He formed us, that is, from the dust of the earth, and that His desire to dwell among us is a blessing. Let me ask you a simple question, why do we clean our house? Isn’t it to remove the dust? Now imagine if God swept the dust out of “His house”. Actually, He wants the dust to come into His house. Isn’t that a reason to rejoice?
I remember Rabbi Johnson mentioning that Shemini, Eighth, in gematria means something supernatural because 7 is equivalent to nature – 7 days of the week, 7 days of creation, etc. It is when the fullness of things is complete, the pacts are closed or sealed. Then, Atzeret comes from the root Otzer which is equivalent to Treasure, in fact, the dictionary word in Hebrew is otzar milim – אוֹצַר מִילִּים – (treasure of words). Atzeret – עֲצֶרֶת, Assembly, is a gathering of people, that is, the union of a community. This time is precious in the eyes of our Borei Olam, when we come together, and this communal moment between all of us must be a treasure. So, by putting the words Shemini Atzeret together, we celebrate a supernatural treasure, that is not logically understandable; how is it possible that such diverse people can live together in harmony? I remember Rabbi Johnson mentioning in Tuesday’s classes how he was amazed that in such a small community, if I remember correctly, 16 different languages were spoken, with different customs, and yet it was ONE community. Isn’t this supernatural logic?
What is precious? A balance of the individual, the community and the ethereal: The Bore Olam. Balance as we recognize our individuality, our difference from others, and knowing how to appreciate ourselves so that we can determine our role. We are not necessarily all created to be astronauts or great physicists, and this does not imply that we are less valuable as human beings, but I am almost sure if you asked an astronaut to survive in the Amazon jungle for 7 days, he couldn’t; whereas a native could. One is not better than the other; we are each a unique and exceptional human being.
Then balance within the community in which we need to practice the Torah with one another, and this we can only be done in community. We need to realize how fragile we are, yet independent, but in community we strengthen, we support each other, we grow, we are interdependent and above all, the Word, written as “text” comes “alive”. Biblical Judaism, unlike other faiths, does not believe in asceticism or in monasteries, where they think that “holiness” is achieved through isolating man from his community. God created us as social beings as we read in Bereshit: “it is not good for man (as a species) be alone?” As Yochanan says, “For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen?” (1 Yochanan 4:20). And the balance, regarding our Creator, comes when we appreciate ourselves individually and within community, as we raise up the Divine Name, as Tehilim 149: 4 says “Because the LORD rejoices in his people”.
In this parashah in Devarim there are certain phrases that the Torah repeats:
Present yourself before God in the place He chooses. (chapter 14: 23, 24, 25; 15:20; 16: 2,6,7,11,15,16)
This location, as an interesting feature, is the place where God has decided to make his Name dwell. (14:23, 16: 2,6)
God manifests himself within the community, as we read in the Haftarah at the presentation of the Temple; it was a great Assembly that witnessed the Glory of the Almighty, just as in Sinai He manifested Himself before the entire community to deliver the Tablets of the Covenant.
We are all aware that we cannot “encapsulate” God into our thoughts, in fact, as Solomon said, neither heaven nor earth can contain you, so our request should be: “Eternal, choose my house, my person, my family… that you may dwell among us.
Tomorrow we celebrate Simchat Torah; is it a universal Torah or is it only for Israel? This is a deep question with an ambiguous answer: yes and no. Yes, in the sense that it contains many truths for any human being to be able to develop fully; and no, in the sense that it is a book of the pact, that has a cost (not only economically, we cannot buy God, but also obedience) and in this sense, it is a book that is for those who deserve it, who have decided to follow (obey) its Words.
Simchat Torah is not a Torah celebration, it’s a rabbinical tradition, but it represents a cycle of beginning the reading of the Torah again and trying to deepen and grow with each reading cycle. As Rabbi Johnson said, we can read the same passage for 10 or 20 years, but one day, we discover something new that impacts and causes Paradigm Shifts within us. On the same day that we read V’zot Habracha, we immediately begin with Bereshit, which gives us the idea of the renewal of the body, the same body, with new cells and organs, that God is a God of beginning again.
Chag Sameach, Shabbat Shalom!