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Simchat-Torah: From Chickens to Vegetables

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Will you be a Consumer or a Producer

As we move right along from fauna to flora, from swirling chickens before Yom Kippur to thrusting shrubs on Sukkot, one cannot help but think of the fascinating organic nature of the holidays.

I have been asked many times, what right we humans have to kill and consume animals for our own sustenance? This is one of the arguments posed by vegetarians to make their case. But the question is not just about animals. What right do we have to destroy and consume vegetables or minerals in order to sustain ourselves?

(Recently I read a talk by the Rebbe R’ Yosef Yitzchak, where he recalls the words of his father, the Rebbe R’ Sholom Ber, regarding a vegetarian declining to eat meat at the Shabbat table. The Rebbe said: “Does he then know what is transpiring in the vegetable world…?!”)

The question deepens – a question asked only in the mystical chambers of Chassidus: Why were humans created in a fashion that our survival is dependent on the consumption of other species? Doesn’t this necessity make us inherent narcissists?! When our very being is dependent on consuming others forms of life, how can we be expected to be kind and giving?!

The answer resonated before me as on Sukkot I stood amidst thousands of people all gripping their ‘four species,’ the lulav (palm branch), esrog (citron), hadassim (myrtles) and aravot (willows).  Imagine thousands of palm branches and esrogim stabbing the air in all six directions: south, north, east, up, down, west.

We gather together the four species to demonstrate our responsibility to elevate the world around us. Each of the four represents another dimension of the ecosystem.

Our dependence on other species is not in order for us to be consumers but to become producers: Our interaction with the species allows us the opportunity to elevate the world around us. By utilizing the strength and energy we receive from food for productive and constructive purposes, we in effect lift up the source of this energy to unprecedented heights, ones that these species could never reach on their own.

A Chassidic aphorism: When a wicked person walks on the street, the cobblestones cry out

“what right do you have to walk on us?!” “We – the cobblestones – have never transgressed G-d’s will, we have never hurt anyone else, why do you defile us and what entitles you to trample upon us?”

We always stand at a crossroad, with two choices before us. With every move we make, every breath and bite we take, in every interaction with the mineral, vegetable and animal kingdoms, we have two options: Either to consume and destroy the world around us, or to use the energy to elevate and improve our environment.

As we begin the new year, starting with the birthday of the human race on Rosh Hashana, when we renew our Divine contract and responsibility for the universe, we express our calling by interacting and elevating the different species:

On Rosh Hashana we blow shofar with a ram’s horn that awakens us to teshuvah and our mission. We visit a body of water with fish (tashlich). We twirl the chicken before Yom Kippur to atone for our sins. And then we celebrate Sukkot, sitting in a hut covered by something of plant origin (sechach), and we gather the ‘four kinds’ also of the vegetable world. Apples, honey, fish, kreplach, the special meals – all are part of the ecological Tishrei menu.

The conclusion of the holiday season climaxes with the unbridled joy of Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah. This joy is captured most in the Simchat Torah dance with the Torah scrolls. Dance begins with our legs touching the ground – the lowest part of the mineral world – and then lifting our legs, and with them lifting up our entire body and spirit in a contagious and powerful surge that celebrates life and the Divine mission with which we have been charged.

Dance combines two extremes. It is deeply physical and spiritual at the same time. You don’t dance merely in your mind or heart or even soul. It requires physical movement and exertion, affecting your entire body, beginning with the legs. Dance is perhaps the most physical thing we can do. Yet, in this physical demonstration dance has the power to lift our spirits in a most profound manner.

As we are about to enter Simchat Torah 5763, let us dance and dance away. Let our spirits soar and lift our bodies, as our bodies soar and lift our spirits. Let us whirl and twirl and swirl in one intoxicating dance – not one that ignores the painful year we have just been through, but a dance that translates our feelings into a celebration of our renewed commitment to life and our mission to transform the universe into a home for G-d, once and for all.

As the world stands at the brink of war – actually in the middle of a war; a war that no one wants to acknowledge – the holidays, concluding with Sukkot and Simchat Torah, remind us of our global responsibility. As consumers of the world’s resources, we carry the profound mission to elevate all the forces around us.

Will you be a consumer or a producer? Will you be a victim or a leader? Will you wait for things to happen or make things happen?

Will you cower or will you dance?

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