It’s time to remind ourselves of the commitments we made last Rosh Hashanah and finish what we started!
“Whoever has built a house… planted a vineyard… is engaged to be married… Let him go and return to his house, lest he die in the war, and another man… [will complete it].” (Devarim 20:5–7)
ASa nation, we’re used to celebrating beginnings. We’re enjoying the first course at a chasunah, accompanied by light music and conversation. Suddenly the band pumps up the music and the new couple is escorted into the hall: “Introducing for the very first time….” The volume is deafening, and the dancing starts with excitement.
At a bris, everyone stands around schmoozing until the mohel shouts: “Baruch Haba!” A hush immediately follows, as this eight-day-old baby is welcomed into the Jewish community.
And let’s not forget a bar mitzvah! This boy is finally an adult — counted as part of the community.
Each event celebrates the beginning of reaching a milestone (Rabbi Yaacov Haber, TorahLab).
I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve attended a pidyon haben. My mother’s a bas Kohein, which nixed any cousins’ pidyons, and my siblings and I all had girls first. So it was with tremendous hakaras hatov that we were zocheh to celebrate the pidyon haben of our grandson a few weeks ago.
It was a late summer Motzaei Shabbos affair, as the actual day had come out on Shabbos. I was rushing, pressured, trying to get everything ready in time.
Then the moment came, and we placed the baby on the grand silver tray, a family heirloom a friend had lent me.
There he lay in all his splendor, surrounded by the jewelry that had been handed over graciously by all the female guests.
This week’s Torah portion identifies a different milestone, that of completion, of accomplishing our goals. The Jewish People are setting up an army, selecting soldiers. But anyone who’s planted a vineyard, built a house, or become engaged is discharged from duty. Why? The common denominator among all these exceptions is that each has begun something, but hasn’t yet completed the task.
Apparently, beginning, or even intending to see these beginnings through, is not good enough. The Torah is telling us that until we reach our individual goals, those grand beginnings remain meaningless. We may think that conquering Eretz Yisrael takes precedence over our personal vineyard or home. And when we consider the nation’s security, it may certainly seem more important than marriage. Yet the Torah instructs these men: Go home! Finish what you started. Experience shleimus — completion.
Watching my son-in-law hand over the coins, watching the Kohein bentsh the small baby, I experienced a feeling of transcendence. This mitzvah was linking me to all the other 613, those I can fulfill often and also those just as rare.
And then, all too soon, the ceremony was over, and it was time to continue the seudah.
We’ve all paved quite a few roads with good intentions. We start projects with the intention of finishing them, but the path to fruition is fraught with obstacles. Hashem gives us the miracle of inspiration at the beginning of an endeavor, but then it’s up to us to find the inspiration when that initial burst of motivation starts to fade.
The word “shalem” — completion brings about “shalom” — peace. Laying a foundation to a house is great, but a home, lit with Shabbos candles, is shalem, complete. It represents peace.
Meeting a newly engaged couple or dancing at their wedding is a beautiful thing. But it’s nothing compared to seeing a mature couple look at each other with love and cooperation.
The Torah commands us to resist getting involved with new, enticing, more important-looking projects. Instead, we must finish what we started. Become a shalem, and Hashem will grant us the ultimate blessing: shalom.
We’ve just begun Chodesh Elul. Elul is not only a preparation for the year to come, but it represents the finish line of the year gone by. It’s time to remind ourselves of the commitments we made last Rosh Hashanah and finish what we started!
I stood over the tray, wanting to prolong the moment. I looked at the baby, now slumbering peacefully. This grandson was zocheh to be named after my father z”l; he even resembled my father with his blond Yekkishe coloring.
I touched his tiny fist, resting on my father’s own watch, which I had placed on the tray. This is only the beginning, my tzaddikel, I whispered to him. You merited a huge zechus one month into life. May it accompany you always, and bring many more mitzvos to come.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 856)
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