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Sunny-Side Up

Shoftim (Deuteronomy 16:18-21:9 )

by Rabbi Jared Viders

When the nation was riveted with the first total solar eclipse visible from anywhere on mainland United States since the Carter Administration, consumers flocked to purchase sun glasses. Ditto for the local library where patrons formed a line around the block to get a pair of suitable spectacles.

Interestingly, this rare event coincided with a high-water mark on the Torah calendar, i.e., the ushering in of Chodesh Elul and the 40-day period of y'mei ratzon ("days of favor") wherein a Jew seeking sincere growth and improvement will inevitably find God's Divine assistance propelling them to new heights in his/her spiritual work.

What lesson can be gleaned from the rare-dovetailing of these two events?

In the classic 15th-century work on self-perfection, the Orchas Tzaddikim ("Paths of the Righteous) presents a "Gate of Remembrance" wherein the author adjures his readers to pro-actively remember thirty fundamental attitudes towards life. (N.B. The ideas are based largely on those found in an earlier work, the Chovos Cholevovos (Duties of the Heart) dating back to the 11th century). While the enumerated concepts are not necessarily sophisticated, complex or lengthy, these "life outlooks" are certainly prone to be forgotten amidst the vicissitudes of daily life.

Loosely paraphrased, "Remembrance" number 23 states as follows: "You should consistently remember the greatness of Hashem and discern that greatness in the Creation - E.g., the precise orbits of the universe, the sun, the moon, the rain, the capacity to breathe and other such phenomenon that are virtually limitless. However, since one observes these wonders day-in and day-out, the heart is not stirred by them. However when the sun or moon undergoes an eclipse then one becomes very astonished on account of the fact that such occurrences are infrequent…Therefore, gaze again at the world and make yourself as if you never saw any of these everyday wonders in your life. Imagine you were blind until this moment and just now were your eyes were opened - how dazzled they would be by the 'everyday' wonders of Hashem in readily observable in 'nature.' So, should you endeavor to do so each day."

* * *

"Raise your eyes on high and see Who created these [celestial beings, i.e., the sun, moon and the stars]; He brings forth their legions by number; He calls them all by name; because of His abundant might and powerful strength; there is not missing even one." (Isaiah 40:26)

Lest we forget, we are in the midst of a seven-week period of nechama (consolation) that commenced with the verse quoted above (the Haftorah to V'eschanan). What in the world (or the universe, if you will) does Hashem's orchestration of the luminaries have to do with nechama?

The answer, Rabbi Sher explained recently, is that the biggest comfort is to live with the clarity that life is not random and that there is a Creator running the world - your world, my world and the world at-large.

Nothing happens in a vacuum. Nothing is purposeless. No situation is in vain. For when every corner of the vast universe bespeaks plan, purpose and design, we are reminded that our very existence also bespeaks plan, purpose, design and … destiny.

This is the battle cry of Elul. Not just to do teshuvah for our misdeeds, but rather to achieve a greater clarity in faith and to confront and vanquish those pestering, festering doubts surrounding the existence of Hashem and His presence in every single aspect of my life.

To this end there is so much we can glean from the dazzling precision and Godliness in the everyday creation. The mechanization is staggering. After all, we can predict the time of the next total solar eclipse with greater accuracy than the arrival time of tomorrow's Long Island Railroad at Ronkonkoma station!

Be it nature, be it the endless complexity and synchronicity of the human body, be it the vastness of space -- these readily-apparent windows into Hashem's presence in our life is more of a preparation for Rosh Hashanah then the honey dish and the New Year's cards. So get busy re-acquainting yourself with the King of the Universe - appearing daily - in your garden, with your sunrise, in the newborn wing of your local hospital … virtually everywhere, all the time.

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