Rejoice in Your Festivals
Penetrating Insights into Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot
By Rabbi Zvi Dov Kanotopsky
Edited by David Zomick
Urim Publication, 2007, 232 pages
Reviewed by Israel Drazin - November 30, 2009
Dr. David Zomick took the sermon notes of his beloved rabbi and expanded them into just over three dozen sermons on the three biblical holidays Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot. His drafts were reviewed by the late rabbi's family who concurred in what Dr. Zomick wrote. One is reminded of the works of the students of the great philosopher Aristotle who transcribed his notes or the notes they took of his lectures. But while the Aristotelean books are rational in nature, Rabbi Kanotopsky's writings are homiletical, midrashic and sometimes mystical, but enjoyable to read and contemplate.
The sermons are written in simple English, with logical progression, with no repetition, and no attempt on the part of the sermonizer to show how smart he is – a typical fault of many rabbis. The following are some examples that show the rabbi's teachings.
As Germany was surrendering in 1945, Rabbi Kanotopsky urged his congregation to work for the establishment of a State of Israel. During the same year, he spoke about the differences of opinions among Jews, compared this dissention to the divergences among the Israelites at the Red Sea, after they left Egypt, and stressed that the future of Judaism after the war depends upon unity.
Focusing on the start of the United Nations, he wrote that the new organization, no matter how well-meaning, will not work if the countries are unable to differentiate between good and evil; if evil nations can join the UN and participate in controlling the world.
Apropos of many over-zealous Jews today who stone Jews who desecrate the Sabbath, Rabbi Kanotopsky wrote that we must be optimistic about the future of non-observant Jews and treat all people respectfully, for there is a very good chance that if these people are treated properly they will return to the proper path.
In 1948, when the State of Israel was about to be created, the rabbi warned that the ancient sages taught that people will only prosper if they have proper positive goals.
The rabbi occasionally addresses mystical ideas such as how does a person tap into and develop his and her soul?
He addresses many other interesting and relevant questions, such as: What are the barriers to achieving happiness? What is the significance of the Israelites in Egypt putting blood on their doorposts and what connection does it have with circumcision? Why do some Jews stay up all night on Shavuot? Did the practice start because of superstition? When did the observance of saying yizkor, the memorial prayer, begin, and what is its meaning and relevance?
Some questions are midrashic, as: How can we understand that "Moses ascended to heaven," and the midrashic view that he did not go all the way up?
Some of the questions address fundamentals, as: Is divine revelation a continuous process or has it stopped?
All in all, the volume is both interesting and thought provoking.