A few days ago, I was invited to a local gathering in memory of David (Moshe Yosef) Reichenberg, who gave his life trying to rescue a child from electrocution during the Hurricane. Rabbi Naftoli Reich of Ohr Somayach shared a thought that has a lot of relevance to the days ahead.

In last week’s Torah reading, Moshe says that everyone is there, even “from the wood-choppers to the drawers of water.” Rashi explains that there were Canaanites who turned away from their wickedness and wanted to convert, hiding their identity. So Moshe accepted them, but made them the wood-choppers and water-drawers.

The question must be asked though, what difference did it make that Moshe gave them menial work to do? If they came from wicked nations, how could he make them part of the Jewish people?

The answer Rabbi Reich shared with us is that they were put to work doing these things on behalf of the Mishkan, the Tabernacle in the desert. And a person can’t work on behalf of holiness like that, exerting him or herself, and fail to be transformed in the process.

We are at the time of the year where we are asked to set aside a few days to exert ourselves entirely to the task of coming closer to G-d, of shedding what we did wrong last year and committing to a better new year ahead. Many people worry that they will go through the process, and simply go back to their old ways afterwards. The Canaanite wood-choppers teach us: if you devote yourself entirely to holiness, you can’t fail to be transformed!

May we share a year of blessings and redemption, and may you and yours be immediately inscribed in the Book of Life,

Yaakov Menken

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