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Confessions of an Inveterate “Phyllotomist” as He Begins His Journey toward Chanukah
(Written at the End of Tishrei 5783)
Rabbi Hillel L. Yarmove
First off, let me assure you that there is no such word as “phyllotomist.” Don’t believe me? Then look it up yourself!
OK, so you’ll tell me that there is a Greek word for “leaf” that sounds a bit like the beginning of that word (“phyllon ,” of course, as in “chlorophyll”!). Then you’ll undoubtedly insist that the “tom” part of the word is derived from the Greek verb “temnein,” meaning “to cut”—as in “anatomy,” “tonsillectomy,” “appendectomy,” and the like. And you’d be 100% correct. Greek terminology? “Yevanim nikbitzu awligh”? What’s this: Am I thinking about Chanukah already?
So let me grant myself the honor of being a veteran “phyllotomist,” especially now that autumn has provided us with a plethora of parti-colored leaves—red and green, yellow and crimson—as well as leaves that are entirely painted in one predominant color, be it orange, brown, scarlet, or gold. When I find an opportunity, I shall cut the autumn leaves which I have collected and produce startlingly beautiful pictures for my grandchildren and great-grandchildren. And to think that I have had this loving relationship with autumn leaves since I was a little child! Interestingly enough, the fall leaves usually begin their incredible color transformation right around the Days of Awe, the Yomim Noraim.
Wait a minute! What do Greek terminology, autumn leaves, the Yomin Noraim, and Chanukah have to do with each other?
Chazal point out that the terminus of the teshuvah seaon, which had begun way back at the outset of Elul, is Chanukah. In his very informative sefer Otzar Hayidiy’os: Asifas Gershon al Inyanei Chanukah, the mechabeir, Harav Gershon Eisenberger, writes in his section entitled “Y’mei Chanukah Hemshech MiYomim Noraim” (“The Days of Chanukah are a Continuation of the Days of Awe”):
“It is brought down in seforim that the days of Chanukah are part of a continuum extending back to the days of Awe. Indeed, Harav R’ Tzvi Elimelech Dinover [author of B’nei Yissaschar and Agra D’Kallah—my note!] states in the name of his rebbeim that from Rosh Chodesh Elul until Chanukah, there shines in the firmament the form of a hand stretched out to accept those ba’alei teshivah who for whatever reason were pushed off from repenting during the Ten Days of Repentance—and their teshuvah is accepted until Chanukah [translation is mine]” (pages 59-60).
Is it any wonder, then, that I felt the need a couple of years ago to collect and press some exceedingly vibrantly colored autumn leaves—and then cut them into shapes to make a leaf-collage representing a menorah? After all, while they remain on their host trees, the leaves of autumn seem to shine with a radiance that belies their final destination—the earth, where they will decompose and nourish a whole new generation of plants, trunks, branches, and foliage. The realization that all is not lost when the vibrancy of autumn has departed is an apt parallel to our understanding that if, for whatever reason, we did not do the proper teshuvah expected of us, we still have Chanukah as a loving Divinely-mandated parameter, should fill us with especial hope and radiant joy.
Speaking of which, I should very much like to digress for just a brief moment here. This week marks the commencement of the month of Marcheshvan. It also marks a very important occasion in the lives of the extended Yarmove family—one which signifies yet another kind of planting, that, im yirtzeh Hashem, will produce succulent peiros and gorgeous parti-colored leaves for scores of years to come. My beloved granddaughter and her chosson are about to begin constructing their bayis ne’eman b’Yisroel—and it is my hope that they will do so amidst a continually prevailing spirit of especial hope and radiant joy. Mazal tov, mazal tov, mazal tov, dear Fraidy Blima and Chezky Shraga—and may you both go michayil el chayil, exuberantly and radiantly together ad meah v’esrim shanim!
Most of all: Thank you so much, Basheffer!
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