Sunrise Doesn’t Last All Morning

Friday, 17 March, 2023 - 8:05 am

My go-getter coworker asked me, "Andrea, why to put off till tomorrow what you can do today?”

I replied, "On the chance that I get fired this afternoon and don’t have to do it at all.”

Today I will not discuss a verse, word, or even letter of the Torah portion. Instead, we will explore something glaringly absent from the weekly portion.  As you know, sometimes that which is not said can teach you more than that which is said.

At the end of every Torah portion in every published Chumash, it states how many verses there are in this portion, followed by a mnemonic, a “siman,” a word or two, handed down by tradition, whose numeric equivalent equals the number of verses in the Parsha.

For example, the note at the end of Bereishit is: “146 verses, the sign is Amatzya; the sign is Yechezkeyahu.” (Bereshit has two mnemonics.)

Yet from all the 53 portions of the Torah there is a single exception: This week’s second portion, Pekudei, has no mnemonic! At the conclusion of the portion, it states as usual that the portion contains 92 verses, but no mnemonic is given.

This is a truly strange phenomenon. What happened to Pekudei? It is not like there are no words with the numeric equivalent of 92; there are plenty of them. So why was Pekudei left out?

In 1953, A Rabbi in Tel Aviv, sent off a letter to the Rebbe asking this question.

The Rebbe responded in a letter and suggests that research must be done in the first prints of the Chumash, since he believes that there was certainly a mnemonic there for Pekudei, yet one of the printers deleted it, and all subsequent editions replicated the mistaken emission.

Then, in a simple swoop of brilliance, the Rebbe suggests a possible explanation for how the emission came to be. If you can appreciate the Hebrew language, the Rebbe’s suggestion is both comical and ingenious.

Perhaps the original mnemonic consisted of a two-word phrase: “bli kol,” which means “without anything.” This phrase is the numerical equivalent of 92.

But what is the connection between “bli kol,” “without anything,” with the theme of the portion of Pekudei? And why would they choose a mnemonic which means “without anything?”

In truth, there is a very profound message here.

“Bli kol,” “without anything,” represents a state of emptiness and absence. We each have moments in our life when we feel that we are “without anything,” when we are without any hope, strength, optimism, vigor, or promise. We feel drained of any energy and joy, from success and accomplishment. We feel empty, sad, dry, and numb.

   You might know the Zen Jewish meditation: Zen is not easy. It takes effort to attain nothingness. And then what do you have? Bupkes.

In comes the mnemonic of Pekudei which teaches us: “bli kol” is the sign! Every void contains within itself the possibility for renewal; every downfall is impregnated with the potential for a deeper realization, for a new discovery, for wisdom yet uncharted.

Just as G-d created something out of nothingness, we too can look at our nothingness and turn it into a new beginning.

Yet our mission is to turn it around and turn the very nothing into a siman, turn our very crisis into opportunity.

A 10-year-old boy decided to study judo even though he had lost his left arm in a devastating car accident.

The boy began lessons with an old Japanese judo master. The boy was doing well, so he couldn’t understand why, after three months of training the master had taught him only one move. The boy finally said, “Shouldn’t I be learning more moves?” “This is the only move you know, but this is the only move you’ll ever need to know,” the master replied.

Not quite understanding, but believing in his teacher, the boy kept training. Several months later, the teacher took the boy to his first tournament. Surprising himself, the boy easily won his first two matches. The third match proved to be more difficult, but after some time, his opponent became impatient and charged; the boy deftly used his one move to win the match. Still amazed by his success, the boy was now in the finals.

This time, his opponent was bigger, stronger, and more experienced. For a while, the boy appeared to be overmatched. Concerned that the crippled boy without the arm might get hurt, the referee called a time-out. He was about to stop the match when the teacher intervened. “No,” he insisted, “Let him continue.” Soon after the match resumed, his opponent made a critical mistake: he dropped his guard. Instantly, the boy used his move to pin him. The boy had won the match and the tournament.

He was the champion. On the way home, the boy and teacher-reviewed every move in each match. Then the boy summoned the courage to ask what was really on his mind.

“Teacher, how did I win the tournament with only one move?”

“You won for two reasons,” “First, you’ve almost mastered one of the most difficult throws in all of judo. And second, the only known defense for that move is for your opponent to grab your left arm.”

The boy’s biggest weakness had become his biggest strength.

We must embrace a similar notion in life. The crisis is defined in Webster’s Dictionary as: “A crucial or decisive point or situation; a turning point.”

Do we choose to freeze in the panic of the unfamiliar or do we seek opportunism the new territory that’s unfolding for us? The former presents anxiety and retreat, the latter evokes growth.

Release your hold on loss and embrace your relationship with opportunity, because as George Harrison sang, “Sunrise doesn’t last all morning.”

Elie Wiesel once related a story about a young Chasid who devoted his life to studying Torah.  One night, without any apparent reason, this pious young man closes his Talmudic volume and runs out of his house into the middle of the town square, crying out, ‘what is the meaning of life?  I cannot go any further, I cannot study one additional verse in the Torah without knowing the meaning of life.”

Other Chasidim came out to his aid, from their homes, from their studies.  They try to calm him down, to convince him to return to his studies, but to no avail. Finally, the local Chasidim recommended that he take a trip to the Rebbe, a few towns away.

The young Chasid leaves immediately for the Rebbe’s home. When he finally gets in to see the Rebbe,  he whispers nervously, ‘Rebbe,  what is the meaning of life? I must know, I cannot go on any longer,  I cannot study another page until I know:  What is the meaning of life?

The Rebbe rises from his seat, walks over to the young man, looks him over very carefully,  and suddenly gives him a soft slap on his face….

Why Rebbe?  Why did you slap me?  What have I done?  All I did was ask, ‘what is the meaning of life?’

You fool’, answered the Rebbe.  “You have such a good question, why exchange it for an answer? It is the answers which separate us, the questions which unite us”.

This is how the portion Pekudei concludes: “And the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the Mishkan. Moses could not enter the Tent of Meeting because the cloud rested upon it and the glory of the Lord filled the Mishkan…” Why a cloud? The cloud is the symbol of darkness, eclipsing the light of the sun. The Jewish people stared into the dark clouds that descended upon them and they accessed its inner light. They proved that G-d dwelled within the clouds of darkness; the very void carried within the potential for rebirth.

If you see a cloud over your head, I beg you, do not get paralyzed. Above the cloud, the sun always shines. What is more, within the cloud you can encounter the presence of the Divine.

This is our past and it is our future: We look around and we see clouds. Yet we know that these very clouds are impregnated with the waters of redemption. Very soon, the sun will burst through the clouds, as Moshiach will appear and liberate us from exile.

A small child walked daily to and from school. Though the weather one morning was questionable and clouds were forming, this child made the daily trek to the elementary school.

As the day progressed, the winds whipped up, along with thunder and lightning.

The mother was worried that her child would be frightened walking back home from school, and she herself feared the electrical storm might harm her child.

Following the roar of the thunder, lightning would cut through the sky like a flaming sword.  Being concerned, the mother got into her car and drove along the route to her child's school.  Soon she saw her small child walking along, but with each flash of lightning, the child would stop, look up at the sky and smile.

One followed another, each time with her child stopping, looking at the streak of light, and smiling. Finally, the mother called and asked, "What are you doing!"

Her child answered:

“I'm smiling for G-d; He keeps taking pictures of me."

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yoseph Geisinsky

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