This past Shabbos, our family was discussing that famous Shakespearean bonnet (that’s what Shakespeare wore in the rain when composing his deepest poetry): “Chazak Chazak v’nis’chazeik, / my mother baked a chocolate cake; / and in the cake there was rake, / and in the rake there was a snake.”
We were debating the great wisdom invested in this deep rhyme. How did a rake end up in a cake and how did a snake end up in a rake? More importantly, why does it have to be a chocolate cake? And what if my wife made it and not my mother – does that fulfill the obligation? We also wondered why the cake didn’t fall in a lake owned by Jake who just ate a steak.
In the end, we admitted that the deeper meaning eludes us and we’ll have to add it to the list of “teiku”s that will have to wait for Eliyahu HaNavi.
The more worthy point that emerges from the silly poem is to have a cake to celebrate the completion of learning an entire Chumash.
New Year’s is a time of resolutions, when people commit to accomplish things they may have always wanted to do but haven’t done in the past. All are always looking for the key to help them maintain their resolutions and meet their goals.
One important tip is to celebrate small accomplishments. One’s ultimate goals are often a long journey away. Celebrating smaller milestones along the way infuses a person with momentum to stay the course until the larger goal is met.
The same holds true regarding spiritual matters. When we celebrate easier and smaller accomplishments along the way, it gives us added confidence to work towards bigger goals.
A year ago, klal Yisrael celebrated the incredible Siyum HaShas. But every few months, there is a siyum on another masechta that also warrants celebration. It’s often a good idea to celebrate completing every chapter along the way, at least in a small manner.
On Simchas Torah, we have a passionate celebration of our completion of the entire Torah. But four other times during the year we mark the Shabbos when we complete a Chumash by rising together and encouraging ourselves to forge onward.
I recently reread the autobiography of my rebbe, Rabbi Berel Wein, Teach Them Diligently. It struck me afterwards that, like many autobiographies, each chapter was formulated based on a period of his life. Each major change in his life warranted the beginning of a new chapter. It didn’t matter whether he was in a certain location/job for five years or 20 years. It all fit it into one chapter.
Most of us dread change. But it seems that it’s those very changes that color the stories of our lives. As long as things remain the same, it’s all part of the same chapter. There can be great accomplishments and growth but all within one basic stage of life. As soon as the situation changes, however, it becomes a new stage of life with its own narrative, direction, and perspective.
In the end, it doesn’t matter whether you celebrate with chocolate or vanilla, a cake or a knish, or if the cake is made by your mother or your wife. The main thing is to recognize and celebrate accomplishment. But for goodness sake, keep the snake out of the cake!