There's not much good I can say about South of the Border, that infamous and unsavory neon-lit conglomeration of convenience stores, firecracker merchants, fast-food joints (and so much more) that sits right off I-95 at the top of South Carolina.
The Sleaziest (or, at least, Cheesiest) Spot on Earth…The Realization of all the dire pronouncements of the Decline and Fall of Western Civilization…The true Physical Embodiment of the Evil Inclination. That's my basic--and balanced--assessment of the place.
Well, hold on. There is at least one good thing I can say about South of the Border.
The billboards (featuring Pedro, and his atrocious puns) informing you of how many more miles to go until you get there: like countless travelers before me, I find them to be an excellent distraction from the wearying monotony of I-95. More importantly, my kids are kept (blessedly) occupied for a couple of hours, as they play the game of First-To-Spot-The-Next-Sign; the excitement mounts as we get closer and closer to the great moment when they will see what we, in our family, call "the big pretend hat," that massive multi-story sombrero that is the architectural centerpiece of the "resort." (I've never actually ascended it… have you?)
For this alone, I offer a sincere "muchas gracias" to Pedro and his creators.
I also wish to salute Pedro by invoking one particular message of his that is quite apropos to this week's special Torah reading for Shabbos HaChodesh. [This Shabbos is so designated because it directly precedes Nisan, the all-important month of our Exodus from Egypt--commemorated on Pesach. The Sages decreed that we should honor the approach of Nisan with a special reading from the Torah which discusses the mitzvah of kiddush hachodesh, the sanctification of the new month, and alludes to the designation of Nisan as the "first" month in our Jewish calendar.]
What does Pedro say (somewhere on I-95)? "Everything old will become new again."
Maybe Pedro was answering King Solomon, who, in Ecclesiastes, penned the famous words: "There is nothing new under the sun." Or, alternatively, perhaps Pedro was thinking back to his boyhood days when they would return the Torah scroll to the Ark (there are a lot of Jews in Mexico City), and the congregation would say: "Bring us back to You, Hashem, and we shall return, renew our days as of old." We can't be sure…
Whatever the source, it's certainly worthwhile to ponder Pedro's statement for a moment. "Everything old will become new again."
You'll pardon the fatalism, but it seems like nothing is new (or "improved") under the sun; I'm in agreement with Solomon on that one. Every day seems just like the rest, each year we make the same old mistakes as in the last, the same bad habits, the same broken resolutions, the same violated precepts and commandments…Politicians tell the same old lies, Hollywood churns out the same old formulas. Is there ever anything new? And, if so, what is the source of renewal in the world?
Pay close attention to Solomon's words (mentioned above), and you'll see the crucial qualification he makes. There is nothing new under the sun, that is to say (as our commentaries explain), in the physical world…but in the spiritual realm, that which exists "above" the sun, there can be found the Source of constant newness and endless renewal! To the extent that we lead lives of spiritual purpose, connecting our lives to the Source of our existence, we can indeed experience the joy of renewal.
And since "connecting with G-d" directly is kind of difficult to do in this earthly existence--a point the Talmud itself acknowledges--, we have the Torah and mitzvos, whose very purpose is to transform the physical world into a place of kedusha (holiness), and elevate our selves towards the ideal of godliness. The roots of the Torah are "above" the sun, and therefore, it is the path to newness--whether in the sense of guiding us to teshuvah (repentance), a general renewal of our spiritual purity, or in the sense of constantly delighting and edifying us with an ever-fresh stream of Divine wisdom. (It is often said of great Torah scholars that no matter how many times they delve into a Torah topic, they always can find a "chiddush," literally, "something new," a novel insight or interpretation.)
Which brings us to this Shabbos. The mitzvah which perhaps most exemplifies the Torah's message of renewal is the one we read about this week, after the regular parsha: the mitzvah of rosh chodesh, the sanctification of the new month.
"This month shall be for you the beginning of the months, it shall be for you the first of the months of the year." The word for month in Hebrew, chodesh, has (not coincidentally) the same letters as the word for "new." Therefore, as the S'fas Emes and other commentators point out, the verse could alternatively be read: "This month shall be for you the beginning of newnesses [or, renewals]…" By commanding us to base our calendar (primarily) on the moon, Hashem was teaching us the message of constant renewal: the moon gets smaller and smaller, and then disappears…only to reappear again. Israel is compared to the moon by our Sages: our fortunes as a people wax and wane; we look like we're about to disappear (G-d forbid)…and then we regain our strength and brightness. So, too, with regard to the spiritual life of each individual Jew.
As Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch beautifully points out, the pagan world (as exemplified by the Egyptian empire)
"…knows no chidush [newness], not in the world, not in humanity, not in his gods, nor in the powers he places above men and the world. To him everything is bound by cast-iron necessity…everything swims down the stream of blind unalterable necessity, all freedom is but an illusion, everything new is only that which existed in the old." [Hirsch, Commentary on the Torah: Volume II, p. 128
The Jewish people, in stark contrast, is entrusted with teaching the message of renewal: a person's sins can be forgiven, a person can regain lost enthusiasm for spiritual growth and elevation. The institution of rosh chodesh, the sanctifying of the new moon by the Jewish court in Jerusalem (after testimony by eyewitnesses of the moon's reappearance), was the teacher par excelence of this concept.
The Sages decreed Shabbas HaChodesh as part of our spiritual preparation for Pesach, the holiday celebrating the liberation from our human masters. The Pesach perspective, if you will, is that there is a G-d above nature (above the sun) Who controls its cycles, and Who guides the world and intervenes in history…as He did when He took us out of Egypt to stand at Sinai. By connecting with Him, who gave us a neshama (soul) and gave us the Torah to actualize the potential of that neshama, we are connecting with the Source of Life.
"Everything old will become new again." Pedro has pointed us in the right direction (and I don't mean north on 95): with the help of the Torah (and, particularly, the mitzvah of rosh chodesh and its eternal lessons), we can experience chidush, newness, in our lives. May Hashem help us make good use of the many such opportunities He gives us…starting with the gift of Pesach-z'man cheyrusenu (the season of our freedom).
Rabbi Yosef Edelstein, Savannah Kollel. Phone: 355-0157; fax: 354-9923; e-mail address: Yosef18@aol.com
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