88. Vayelech - FAR AND NEAR

IN COMMENTING on the verse, "And the Lord said to Moses, behold the days are coming near when thou wilt die," (Delit. 31:19), the Zohar asks, veha bechada idna met bar inash! Man dies in a split second! One oy! and he is through! Why then does it say, "Thy days are coming near?"

The explanation the Zohar offers is the subject of my message to you on the eve of Selichot. When a man is about to die, the Zohar declares, his record is brought for review before the heavenly tribunal. Some days are characterized as yomim kerovim as "days that are near"; others as yomim rechokim as "days that are afar." When a person is intimately involved in meaningful and beneficial activities on behalf of a neighbor or a friend; when he works for Torah, Israel or the community, he lives "near God." But there are occasions when one is distantly removed from his people and his faith. The days when a man is self-centered, petty, mean and bitter are marked in the book of records as yomim rechokim.

Our parents and grandparents had a great many days which were recorded as yomim kerovim. True, their environment - the shtetel and its educational and spiritual centers - were conducive to the kind of activities that brought them "near God." But in our glorification of their milieu let us not forget the temptations to which they were exposed because of their abject poverty and insecurity. Most of us have read about, but thank God never experienced, the degradation and bleakness of the life of the East European Jews. And yet we know that they overcame the stumbling blocks and were kerovim to God.

Fortunately it is otherwise with us. We live in a land and in an era where the impediments to the good life are absent. It is therefore, regrettable that the tempo of our lives and the spiritual vacuum of our environment have conspired to place most of our days in the category of yomim rechokim.

Jews fly in jets at altitudes of six and seven miles, but are far from God when they eat trefa and desecrate the faith and the very name of Israel by unbecoming and even vulgar behavior.

The words of Isaiah, "Seek the Lord while He may be found, call on Him while He is near" (55:6), is interpreted by our sages as referring to the Ten Days of Penitence. They are the yomim kerovim of the year.

The cantor begins the plaintive chant of Selichot with the words from Ashrei, Korov hashem lekhol koreov - "The Lord is near to all who call on Him" (Ps. 145:18). Let us heed that call, and come close to God by making of our days yomim kerovim. And God, in His turn, will answer our prayers for life, health and peace.

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