What Does One do during a Recess?
Recess is not only a waste of time, but a source of distress. When excitement dwindles, coldness seeps in …
A deep silence descended on the Yeshiva. A guest Torah luminary has just finished delivering a deep discourse on a difficult sugya. The young students sent the Rosh Yeshiva their questions ahead of time, fully expecting their every confusion dispelled. Yet for an hour they have been sitting there, listening, yet were unable to understand the revered guest’s logic.
Following the lecture the students tried looking for the Torah great and asked him to make things more clear, but he was gone. Disappointed, the students returned to their books. If the teacher was gone, his words were imprinted in their memory still. The students sat together in small study groups, pondering and analyzing the words they heard. Ever so slowly, the words were coming together. Suddenly the connections the distinguished guest made became clear and before they knew it, the entire issue was illuminated, shining clear as day. Before the evening the guest scholar returned. “At my lecture” he said, “I have given you the basic understanding that was enough to answer all your questions. But you had no way to understand what I said unless you had time to settle the things in your hearts. I disappeared to give you that space and give you the chance to understand them on your own”.
We’ve just entered the month of Adar full with zest and enthusiasm. Last week we heard the parsha of Shekalim, the first of the four Parshiot leading to Purim and Pessach. During Rosh Chodesh we could practically feel the excitement of the oncoming Holidays while reciting the Halel. If the first days were so electric, surely the days after would be even better… but they weren’t. Instead they were quiet and, well, nothing.
Inexplicably, sandwiched between Shekalim and Zachor there is a ‘meaningless’ Shabbos set smack in middle. A Jew may wonder ‘What now?’ What am I to do with an ’empty’ Shabbos in the midst of the most special times of the year? What’s more, how do you get ready to the high, exalted upcoming holydays? How do you affect deliverances?
This interlude is rather deflating. There’s “too much time to think”, as it were. Into the vacuum doubts can creep, and enthusiasm can wither on the vine. And that is exactly where Amalek is lying in wait.
“There is one nation”’ Amalek thunders, “Who are quick to get excited and just as quick to get bored and cool off”. They just woke up from the rustle of the Shekalim and are back asleep once again.
So why, then, is this intermission here, during such a critical time?
To stop and reflect
The answer to “what do we do now?” is “We stop and reflect”.
The break is intended for reflection. Adar is a month of new beginnings as well as continuity. It is a month of war against Amalek and his chilling doubts. This is why a Shabbos that is dedicated to reflection is so important. We heard Shekalim last week. Now it is time to stop and take inventory.
When you look closely you notice that Judaism is made of new beginnings. Surprisingly, one connects to the kedusha with half-baked efforts and not just with perfect accomplishments. So the only thing left to do is … do. You grab whatever you can and run with it.
If Amalek wishes to inject us with doubt, then doubt is the last thing we need to deal with now. When the time comes to doing anything, Amalek comes up with the age-old song of: “Oh, I don’t know what to do”. Even when it is time to daven Shachris, Amalek still contends that “things aren’t clear” and why should one rush? After all, there really isn’t anything to do there anyhow. Amalek also has “questions”: How will you know how to learn? Or how to Pray? Or how to get ready for Purim or Pesach? Or which Mitzvah takes precedence? In other words, Amalek concludes, you don’t have a clue how to be a Jew and if there’s anything that needs to be done, it is best pushed off until tomorrow.
The verse warns us about the war against Amalek and his ubiquitous “tomorrow”. “Go and hold a fight against Amalek tomorrow”. Do not push off anything until tomorrow because doubts and lack of enthusiasm will enter your heart until then. Shabbos Shekalim screams: “Don’t let thoughts and doubts hold you up anymore”. Paralysis is the result of insisting on perfection when happiness is possible only if you are willing to contend with scraps. Anyone knows to grab good moments – a couple of moments of prayer, a steady shiur, and quickness to utilize an available half an hour for something good. Amalek wants to rob us of this affluence and our goal is to push off doubts that will paralyze us.
The call of VaYikra is calling out to every Jew to come into the holy of holies and serve Hashem with Torah and Mitzvoth as it is said: “Every day a divine call comes out of the mount Choreb”.
The other way around
The month of Adar is a time of “the other way around”. This is the month that has turned from lamentations to great joy. This is the time to conduct a revolution of kedusha. Breaks are made for continuity and not doubts and coldness.
Breaks and doubts ambush us at every corner, causing hours upon hours of idleness. “It seems that there is no use to start as there isn’t enough time to finish anything, and nothing is going to change anyhow…” It is the time to look at things differently. If there’s no time, then it is time to move ahead and grab whatever we can and fill the temporal with the eternal. When the people of Israel were called to donate their possessions for the building of the Mishkan they were well before the decree of having to spend forty years in the desert. As far as they were concerned, they were mere weeks before entering into the land of Israel. Still, not a single person claimed they should wait for the permanent home of the Shechinah and refrain from building the temporary Mishkan. This is because they were burning with the holy fire of enthusiasm for the service of Hashem and were quick to grab onto any Mitzvah they could.
The sanctity that appeared upon us in the beginning of the four Parshiod didn’t disappear. The break means to give us some space for reflection. The time when the light is gone is the best time to reflect on what I got from the light while it was here. “Dead time” is telling anyone who is willing to hear and search that there is always what to do: it is always possible to do the best for this very minute.