Rabbi Shaps and I were delighted to make a quick trip to New York to join the Simes and Vinitsky families in celebrating the Bar Mitzvah of Nochi Simes.
As many of you will recall, Rabbi Yehuda Simes and his wife Shaindel moved to Ottawa to share their love of Torah with our community. A little over 13 years ago they were in a terrible car accident which left Rabbi Simes a quadriplegic. Soon after the accident, Shaindel gave birth to a beautiful baby boy. This past Shabbat was his Bar Mitzvah.
Following the passing of Rabbi Simes, Shaindel coordinated a fund-raising drive to purchase a Sefer Torah (Torah scroll) for Congregation Beit Tikvah and dedicate the Torah in Rabbi Simes’ memory. That Torah travelled with us to Queens, New York so that Nochi could have his Bar Mitzvah aliyah and read from the Torah dedicated in his father’s memory. What a moving moment for all of us!
We returned to Ottawa just in time for Yom Kippur and now we are on to Sukkot. Tishrei is a month of many holidays and many Mitzvot. A very special part of the Sukkot celebrations is a strange mitzvah which involves shaking the lulav (palm frond) and etrog (citron), also known as the arbah minim or four species. The Sefer HaChinuch explains that human beings are influenced by our actions, so G-d gave us this special commandment to engage our bodies in His service.
The Sefer HaChinuch goes on to explain how each of the four species represents a different part of the body. The etrog resembles the heart which the Rabbis understood to mean serving G-d with intelligence, as in “the heart knows”. The lulav reminds us of the spine, which shows our commitment to direct our full body to G-dliness. The hadas (myrtle) looks like the eyes and so reminds us not to let our eyes take us off course. The aravah (willow branches) remind us of lips and anyone connected to JET over the last few years knows all about the importance of Clean Speech!
Rabbi Moshe Kormornick asks, if these arbah minim/ four species represent our commitment to serve G-d with our full body, why is this mitzvah only practiced on Sukkot. Why don’t we shake the lulav and etrog on other holidays like Passover or Rosh Hashanah? He answers that Sukkot comes right after the spiritual high of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. We all know how quickly inspiration fizzles. The way to keep it going is by grounding our inspiration in immediate action. We are given this special mitzvah to shake the lulav and etrog, representing the different aspects of our body, immediately following the High Holidays to solidify our inspiration.
Prior to the accident Rabbi Simes was a man on the go. After the accident, he became the “Rolling Rabbi”. Without the use of his limbs, he had to find other ways to actualize his service of G-d and his connection with others. His perseverance and positivity modeled for us the great heights that a person can reach even when the body is so impaired. His dedication to Jewish practice under such formidable circumstances was a stark reminder that, unlike Rabbi Simes, we have the opportunity to use our bodies as the vehicle for the expression of our souls. Something that we should not take for granted. The mitzvah of the arbah minim, the lulav and esrog, coming right after Nochi’s Bar Mitzvah, is a timely reminder of that message.
We wish Nochi and the entire Simes family a hearty Mazel Tov and thank them for all that they have done for us, both body and soul.
Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach, Lauren