Chagim and Moadim
I have Hanukkah meditations that I’ve shared in various ways over the years, and this year I’d like to use them to explore more deeply the foundational themes of Hanukkah.
One of the mystical points of year that’s approximately a third of the way between Rosh Hashanah and the end of Pesach. This is significant, especially put together with the understanding, as taught by the Holy Arizal, that Rosh Hashanah is the conception, the impregnation of the New Year, and the end of Pesach is the birth, the culmination of that pregnancy.
This puts Hanukkah in a shortened time frame, like the time during which a woman would come to realize she’s pregnant. During the first third of her pregnancy she may get along without it being noticed. But, from that point on, it’s obvious that she’s pregnant.
What does this have to do with us, and the spiritual work in our lives? It’s the same type of work in our spiritual lives, our Sages tell us. It’s like a pregnancy for us, asking, “what is our fate, unfolding for us in this year?”
It’s helpful to do an inventory and explore our goals and aspirations for the year, what path we put ourselves on and what roadmap we must use.
Knowing all this, it’s easier to experience Hanukkah as being one-third of the way, on the path toward the goal, with an awareness of what’s happened so far and what still needs to happen. It’s a good time to look at how our year is developing.
Hanukkah is the natural time to do this because it’s the time for seeing the unseen. We light candles in the darkest time of year, when we normally can’t see in the dark. That’s how we look into our lives to see how they are developing and unfolding, even hidden in the darkness.
This is one important part of what Hanukkah represents, meaning it’s a time when the pregnancy of our year is recognized. Based on the same concept of seeing the unseen, there are 36 Hanukkah candles representing 36 hidden tzadikkim supporting the world.
And, in addition, the first 36 hours of Creation were the hours when Adam was able to see with the aid of the hidden light, from one end of time and space to the other.
What opens up for us at this time of Hanukkah is that ability to see the entire spectrum, the continuum of our lives and other peoples’ lives. It includes our inner and outer vision, and both are infinitely expanded.
We need to pick up on this aspect of Hanukkah, too.
Also, there’s the idea of war. The Maccabees waged war against the Greek empire at the time was referred to, by some sources, as, “the war of no choice.” It was one family against a whole empire, the Maccabees against the Greeks. They were a family that the Greeks could not be allowed to conquer the land spiritually, even if they weren’t warring against it physically.
The Greeks wanted to impose their viewpoints on everyone, and the Maccabees, in their zealousness, decided they could not let it happen. They chose to defeat the Greek empire on the power of “no choice.” They had no choice but to zealously defend the Jewish people, whatever it took.
A band of marauders, hiding out in the Judean hillsides, situated themselves to win a battle waged over a long period of time. Their victory was based on the power of, “we have no choice.” With that power, we can do amazing things now, too.
Also, Hanukkah is the holiday of the Sephira of Hod. For one thing, Hod represents the spirit of enabling the dis-abled. That means enabling someone who is not enabled. This is a whole, distinct Sephirotic reality requiring complete selflessness and a lot of love, skill and foresight to take something that is not enabled and bring it to a point where it is enabled. On Hanukkah, we have that kind of light.
Hod also represents Hoda-ah, which means gratefulness. And it means saying Thank You. The power of saying Thank You is huge, and it can change a person’s life. Rabbi Shalom Arush and Reb Lazer Brody’s book is taking the world by storm in their book about gratitude, and being able to say Thank You for half an hour a day, for everything, good and bad. That practice can bring miracles into your life. That’s the power of saying Thank You.
It’s a great experience to say Thank You because everybody loves to receive a Thank You and it really feels good to give a Thank You, to other people and to G-d as well.
This aspect of the Hanukkah Sephira of Hod is in play at this time, and it’s what we’re tapping into.
Finally, the next idea is the difference between the Greeks’ understanding of Hod and the Jews’ understanding of Hod. In a nutshell, the concept is this – Greeks were famous for their ability to see beauty and the splendor of life, as long as it was measurable and able to be articulated and scientifically defined and proven.
Whether it be philosophy, analytics or esthetics and art, or any of the Greeks’ other gifts to civilization, it was valid if it can be seen and measured. But, the Jewish understanding of Hod is the beauty of things which cannot be seen. This drove the Greeks crazy, causing them to pronounce horrible edicts and decrees against the Jews.
Jews had something the Greeks did not understand, and they couldn’t stand it. They did not understand our connection to G-d and to Torah, Shabbos and the soul. These are all things that cannot be quantified or measured. They cannot be weighed or accounted for in any way. They are invisible.
Our power on Hanukkah, which needs to be celebrated, is the power of the unseen. This contrasts to Purim which is a celebration of the unknown. We are supposed to drink until we reach a place of not knowing. But on Hanukkah it’s the power of the not seen.
We need to celebrate that and make it a part of our lives.
This week’s MMM is sort of a continuation of last week’s theme. It, too, is about healing, but it’s a specific type of healing called Tikkun, or rectification, healing of the broken vessels.
Healing broken vessels is really healing broken people, and we all fall into the same category.
It’s a timely choice of topic, because this past Sunday was a long fast day, and the beginning of a three-week period during which the worst cataclysms in Jewish history occurred in the past. It’s a time designated for breakdown and breakage, more than usual, during the rest of the year.
This three-week period has that kind of energy, even in the climate. The days are the longest and hottest, which represents, in human terms, an overabundance. It represents our inability to take in so much input that’s coming into our lives. That inability leads to dire circumstances.
The Kabbalistic story of the breaking of the vessels, in its simple version, is this – the vessels were immature and the light was overwhelming. The light broke the vessels on different levels, depending on the level of maturity.
The rest of history is all about fixing up what’s broken, fixing the broken pieces. That repair can happen in various ways, but the basic idea is this – there has to be a harmony, a synchronization between the cosmic receiver and the cosmic giver. The giving must be matched-up with what is able to be received. If the giving and receiving isn’t matched up, things break down.
In more human terms, for us to be proper vessels and to receive the lights in the proper proportions, we have to participate in teamwork. That teamwork involves other people who can do what we cannot do alone, and it also describes what happens inside each of us when we “team up” all our different talents, characteristics and powers we have inside us.
So, one of the ways to hold a lot of light is teamwork.
Another way to avoid the breakdown is to have selflessness. The more ego or selfishness we have the more fragile we become, the more vulnerable we become and subject to becoming broken.
The rectification, to receive the light, is to become very, very selfless and humble. Also in our lives, we have to be able to see that what we receive is not only just for us, but it’s meant to be channeled into everything related to us. We live in interdependent worlds. Even within ourselves, what we receive has a parallel world which is shared by our body and integrated into it.
So, too, our mind will have a resulting, parallel effect. The body and the mind have the effect, and so, too, will the soul. When our soul has the effect, so, too, will the other souls in our environment, and eventually we affect the whole world.
It’s not only teamwork, but we’re in a world that’s microcosmic and macrocosmic, where everything is connected to everything else. And to that extent, there is Tikkun. To the extent things are disconnected, to that same extent there is breakdown.
The Messianic world will be the ultimate connection. That’s where everything will be connected, and what we consider “parts” will become whole. We are moving in this direction now.
To be connected, a person needs to have compassion for others, to identify their own need for others, and the ability to relate to others in the proper way. The coming of Messiah is dependent upon our interconnectedness with each other.
We are in a world of Tikkun, which means that even though we are free-will beings, and we decide what gets fixed-up, we still have to realize that G-d is doing it for us, through us and to us, in his own way. Everything is getting better and everything is moving towards Tikkun.
But we cannot jump out of the hierarchal world of Tikkun into everybody-is-equal-and-everybody-is-the-same, and everybody is independent, which will be the reality in the future world (which we saw in Parsha Korach lately) but we will ultimately be in that kind of world, when everything is repaired.
In this fixing, we need to see that we are lacking something and we all have something that others do not have. To become whole, we have to give to each other. This is how we build up the vessels of interdependence and connection and love. That’s how we can see the abundance that’s coming our way.
This week’s MMM is about Pesach, and I’m calling it Get Yourself Free. It’s about making the most of the holiday. I’ll start with some of the basics, what happened at the time of the first Pesach, the practices of Seder night, and then move into the mindset about how to achieve freedom.
From the perspective of Kabbalah, Pesach is based on a 130-year time period when Adam, separated from his wife, spilled seed. Adam was the composite of all humanity, and the seed was incarnated into complete generations, and ultimately made it into the generation of the slaves, Bnei Israel. They went into Egypt and were enslaved for 210 years, which served to rectify the seed spilled by Adam, with a lot of purging and suffering involved.
Their story reveals a slave mentality for 209 years, and people sunk into a lot of tumah, the 49 gates of evil. Then, G-d planted in them a desire to get out of their situation, because people in such a dark place usually don’t know there’s a way out.
Their desire for freedom expressed itself with primal screams, and non-verbal articulations asking for help. G-d told Moses, “I heard their screams,” although he had instigated their circumstances, he also heard their cries. Then G-d told Moses to speak to Pharoah and say, “Let my people go.”
Moses deliberated long and hard about whether he was worthy to be the messenger, but in the end, he did it. And what followed was about a year’s worth of open miracles, which the world has not seen since then, and probably won’t see until the Messianic times. It will be sort of an emulation of the coming-out-of-Egypt process once again.
The Pesach miracles were all about revealing G-d’s presence in the world, and in a people who really didn’t understand G-d’s presence for what it is, who weren’t deserving of it or ready for it. But G-d wanted it to happen at this particular time, because it was rock-bottom, so to speak. And G-d has a timetable for bringing in salvation.
The seed of a plant, decomposing in the ground, must deteriorate to a certain point in order to grow, but can’t go too far or it won’t sprout, grow and blossom at all. So, too, with the Israelites. They had to get to a certain point of slave mentality, and then they had to be brought out in above-nature, miraculous ways.
Miracles of the 10 plagues and miracles of crossing the Red Sea are miracles “on the ground,” but there were also miracles of the spirit. Those spiritual miracles involved people raised up into expanded levels of consciousness, having and extraordinary, inside perspective, which went far beyond all their preparations. They received pure gifts from above.
In a nutshell, that’s what happened. The Israelites got themselves free, and they got out just in time. Not all of them got out, in fact, most of them did not get out. Some got out, and that became the Bible story. We know from the study of Kabbalah that the Bible stories are just the bare bones of what happened, a remnant of the real lesson we’re supposed to apply to our lives.
On Seder night, we get together and talk about the historical story of what happened on the first Pesach, but also to get a sense of our own journey coming out of slavery into freedom, on our own lives.
We go through it, and we set our table with signs of both freedom and slavery, matzah and maror, the yetzir ha tov and the yetzir ha ra, expanded and restricted consciousness. We retell the story, year after year, and we speak our way into consciousness.
Our Sages say that the more one talks about it, the more praise-worthy it is. The very words we say are down-loading belief in G-d into our souls, especially on Seder night, but also at all times. It’s a very special, very elevated night. And the discussion around the Seder table is not just for the highest intellects, it’s for everyone in the family.
It’s a family affair, and the family has to go through the normal channels of father to son, mother to daughter, etc. The home is one of the most sanctified places for the Jewish people, and the Seder is one of the most sanctified ceremonies we have in our home. It’s not done in the synagogue, and it wasn’t done in the Holy Temple, although people came there for the days of Pesach, but the Seder is conducted at home.
Home is where the heart is, where the faith is, and it’s where G-d is, so that’s the foundation. That’s where we drink the cups of wine and eat the matzah of freedom, and we tell the story of freedom. Basically, we are downloading freedom into our souls. Pesach is the holiday of freedom. That’s the essence of the holiday – to get ourselves free.
According to Jewish teachings, Pesach is not the only time we are to speak about freedom. We’re supposed to do it twice a day, every day, with special mentions on other holidays and on Shabbat. This is such a basic thing a human being is supposed to do, to break free of those things that are holding us down.
That’s what this world is all about. So, I put together some original tools I use to get myself free:
- I give it over to G-d. Whatever I can’t do for myself, I say, “G-d, please do this for me.”
- I choose to want what I do have, instead of what I don’t have. I embrace what I do have.
- I detach myself from things involving the senses, seeing, tasting, touching. I close off some of those senses to free up my spiritual senses.
- I keep a conversation going with G-d at all times. Ask G-d questions and receive the answers. Ask G-d for favors and receive the favors, the gifts. Open yourself up to the gifts. Be an active, best friend kind of partner with G-d, and watch how reality develops for you.
- I see Torah as G-d’s word, filtered down so we can grasp it, and the more we connect with it the more we become free.
- I expect to have active faith in G-d, bitachon, trust in G-d to come through for me. The more I have it, the more free I become, because I’m not afraid of the consequences. Even when it seems there’s no way through, I trust G-d and expect to make my way through.
- I often choose to give up the struggle, to Let Go and Let G-d. When it’s all said and done, it’s G-d who is getting things done, even through my decisions, choices, innovations and motivations. But G-d is the one who is planting those things inside of me. So, where I let go of the struggle and let G-d come through, that’s when I become the most free that I can be.
My MMM for Chanukah will be about the holiday.
Specifically, I was looking into the most transcendent, consciousness-filled aspect of the holiday, and what I came up with is – Seeing The Invisible. I think that everything about Chaukah, what Chanukah is really all about, IS seeing the invisible.
We were fighting a spiritual war then, and we are fighting a spiritual war now. In the past it was with Greek people, and until this very day it has been a battle with Greek culture. The crux of the battle is whether or not invisible spirituality exists at all.
In the Greek way of thinking, it does not exist. If you can’t show something physically, or in dollars and cents, or prove it mathematically or scientifically, it simply does not exist.
There is beautiful and very profound philosophy, art, academic and athletic ability in Greek culture. These are all things you can prove; you can see them, touch them, and therefore prove them.
What drove the Greeks crazy about us, the Jewish people, was our insistence that the invisible is just as real, if not more real, than the visible. We lived, and we are still living our lives based on the invisible.
The Jewish belief in the invisible did not compute with Greek beliefs. But it’s actually what we bring to the world, because it was the inoculation we received on the first Chanukah. Every Chanukah, then, we celebrate the invisible.
Here’s one example – Chanukah is about three months after Rosh Hashanah, which time is considered a conception that begins a type of pregnancy. Three months into her pregnancy, a woman is showing. So, Chanukah is the time the Jewish people are showing, if you care to take a look at the invisible child within the womb, so to speak.
We can’t see into the womb, but we know there’s a child in there. Chanukah is a good time to see the invisible, the unveiling of our year, of our faith for the whole year that started on Rosh Hashanah.
This is also a time when we are able to see the invisible, hidden light, especially when we light the Chanukah candles. We are able to see a type of light that Adam could see, from one end of the world to the other. I believe that altogether there are a total of 36 lights that are lit during Chanukah, which is also the number of hours the hidden light shone after the creation of the world.
It was a hidden light, an invisible light, but an extremely important, spiritual light that gives us the ability to see beyond any boundaries. We can see the invisibility of lights within the darkness, during the darkest and coldest time of the year. It’s when we’re experiencing the longest nights and the shortest days when we light these tiny, little candles as a normal, weekday thing. They are not large and impressive, but we place them in our windows to show we’re maintaining our connection to the invisible. And we have been doing so for over 2000 years.
The tiny candles and the relative invisibleness is, in fact, very visible and very potent and apparent spiritually.
When the Greeks came and threatened one Macabee family in a town called Modiin, not far from Jerusalem, they were threatening to wipe us out if we, the Jewish people, did not accept the Greek way of life. The Greeks looked into their own power of invisibleness and they told us we have a choice. The power of no choice is also very empowering, and it’s what ultimately led them to win the war against us.
When we light the Chanukah candles we are able to see souls, if we open our eyes to see the invisible. They come and join us at that time, when we are lighting candles. They are parts of our own souls, coming up and asking to be reintegrated into who we are. Of course we are doing that all the time, bringing in lost parts of our souls, but in the light of the Chanukah candles it’s happening in a very powerful and accelerated way. This is another way we reconnect to that which is invisible.
Anything and everything that reconnects us to the invisible, whether it’s learning Torah or keeping Shabbat, the basic belief in an invisible G-d, is how we participate in making the invisible into something that’s visible. And that’s what’s being celebrated at Chanukah.
I believe there are unlimited aspects of invisibility we can find at Chanukah. We can do our best to open up the doors to the invisible and celebrate them in the light of Chanukah.
Following along in our holiday series, let’s talk about Sukkot now. It’s basically the second half of the High Holiday period.
The first half of the High Holiday period was sort of a self-discovery process called teshuva, a reawakening of who we are and want we want to do with our lives. We see G-d as our partner in this personal process.
After Yom Kippur, in the second half of the holidays we are ready to bond our newly-discovered selves with G-d in a loving, bonding way. It’s like a courtship or a marriage, and that sets the tone for the holiday of Sukkot. It’s not the same as the strict, fear-filled, first 10 days of the High Holidays. These are the love-filled days of the High Holidays.
The love-filled days culminate as we sit under sukkah, or a temporary booth for 7 – 8 days of use each year. We sit or stand inside it with the understanding that we don’t need the comforts of this world to be sheltered and protected and warm. We can enjoy protection in the flimsiest of abodes when we are trusting in G-d to care for us.
This is an analogy that applies not only to the sukkah, our temporary home during Sukkot, but also to our lives throughout the year. It is sort of an inoculation for trusting in G-d, and believing that even though it may not seem that the odds are with us, our trust in G-d is greater than out natural surroundings. You might say we’re loading up on our trust for the year ahead; we’re building our trust factor.
So, first we have the bonding factor, and then we also have the factor of holy space. Like Shabbat is holiness in time, Sukkot is holiness in a specific, small space. Just as we completely immerse ourselves into a mikvah, we immerse ourselves into a sukkah, and just by being in there we’re immersed in a holy space.
In that holy, G-dly space, we have access to higher beings. We have access to the seven ushpizim, the seven shepherds of Israel: Abraham, Issac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joseph and David. We invite all seven shepherds into our sukkah every night, but the main attraction is the one associated with that night. Abraham is the first night, Issac is the second night, Jacob is the third night, Moses is the fourth night, Joseph is the fifth night and David is the seventh night.
We welcome them and literally try to feel their presence with us. We try to discuss their Torah, and their influence on us. It’s a paradigm we connect-up with on that night of Sukkot and for the rest of the year. It’s very timely as well, because right after Sukkot we go into the new cycle of Torah, which is all about the Patriarchs. We are introducing our new connection to the Patriarchs in the upcoming Torah cycle during the holiday of Sukkot.
We “shake off” the worldly aspect of our lives and enter another-worldly, higher-worldly place inside the sukkah. We thereby gain love of G-d, trust in G-d, and also happiness. We go out every night of Sukkot, just as they did back in the days of the Holy Temple, and we participate in a ceremony that emulates or approximates the ceremony of The Drawing of The Waters which took place just outside the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem. They brought in the water as an offering, and they danced and sang all night long. We, too, dance and sing all night long.
Sleep is over-rated during Sukkot. If you’re really keeping the holiday the way it should be kept, you don’t sleep at all outside of the sukkah, and of course there’s a party going on every night, so you really can’t sleep anyway because you can hear all the other parties in sukkahs in the neighborhood all night long. Sukkot is not conducive to sleep, which is a form of rectification of the whole sleep thing, too.
We go out into a sukkah, not only to party and to be happy with G-d, but also to gain, as it was said in the old days, a semi-prophetic state of Ruach HaKodesh. The happiness allows us to get to higher levels.
We also take the choice species of nature, the four species – the lulav (the palm vine,) the Etrog, the myrtle and the aravah. We take them and wave them, as though we’re waving the evil spirits out of our lives. That’s one way to look at it.
We are also attaching ourselves to the best of the supernatural by waving in all directions, which represents all the Sephirotic directions. We do that on Sukkot. And we do a lot of circle dancing, around and around the altar in the synagogue, and on Simchat Torah we dance around with the Torah. Circle dancing in Judaism is a type of dance which brings down that which is beyond to that which is within us. Circle dancing brings down the surrounding light by going around and around, bringing that which is beyond to that which is within.
It’s another expression of how we grow spiritually, bringing the part of the soul which is beyond us into the part of the soul within us. So, spiritual growth is happening in our circle dancing.
Happiness may be one of the hardest of the mitzvot of Sukkot because there are so many things that can aggravate us and cause us to get crazy, sad or mad. But we do have a mitzvah to be happy during the entire holiday, more so than any other holiday, even though it may be a challenge. Usually the amount, depth and quality of our happiness depends on the first half of the High Holy Days, the amount, depth and quality of our teshuva, of going within and purging whatever keeps us from connecting with our essential self and our connection with G-d.
The deeper we dive into the first half of the holiday, the deeper will be the happiness in the second part of the holiday of Sukkot.
Yom Kippur is the Day of Atonement. We may wonder if we need to do teshuva to properly atone for our sins, or so we only need the day itself. Our Sages tell us we need both teshuva and the Day of Atonement, the other opinion says we only need the day itself because it affects our atonement spiritually.
Our Kabbalistic Sages tell us that Yom Kippur represents Binah, which is connected to a higher world, the World To Come. So, we go into the higher world where there is no physical eating or drinking on Yom Kippur. Instead, our voices and our prayers serve as food.
In the higher world, the World of Truth we call Binah, we are so lined-up with the truth of who we are that our sins of the previous year are seen differently, by G-d and by us. We know we don’t want to sin, but we were stuck in the lower worlds, within the grasp of the Evil Inclination. But that behavior is not who we are.
One of the secrets of Yom Kippur is its power to atone. In addition, our Sages tell us that Yom Kippur is a time to go into Bittul, or self-nullification, a place where we want nothing but G-d. We think, “All I want is G-d, there is nothing for me but G-d.” When we do that, we also atone. G-d looks upon us and thinks, “All you want is Me? All I want is you, too.” It’s an exchange of love in that way.
Yom Kippur is also a day when our prayers are designed to help us ascend into new worlds, one world higher than the one before, until we reach the pinnacle, the crescendo at the end of the day, the Neilah service. It’s the closing of our judgment between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the period when we usually pray the hardest.
Back in the days of the Temple, Yom Kippur was essentially a “one-man show,” because the High Priest took over all the duties for the whole nation, although everybody was present and doing teshuva. The High Priest, however, offered the sacrifices and performed all the intense activities of the service, for the sake of all the people.
Everybody would fast, of course, but the High Priest placed the sins of all the people on the Azazel-bound scapegoat, and sent it off as a bribe or as “hush money,” so to speak, to placate the other side, and to keep it closed. It’s a big subject for another time…
Yom Kippur is the end of a 10-day period of teshuva, during which we are closest to G-d. It’s a great time to do teshuva, because our prayer books teach us to do teshuva, tefilla and tzedaka in order to banish the evil decrees. Negative decrees can be eliminated, but positive decrees are never rescinded. A chain of events may be put into motion, and it may be changed by getting out of our habitual actions in life and making changes.
We might change a particular habit, change our name, change our giving, change our judgments, change (or choose) our character traits, change our abundance and our G-d-connectedness. These things can be affected by our deep prayer, from our essence, and these things can change negative decrees. It’s much easier to change a decree before it occurs than after it happens.
It’s at the end of the Neilah service, the conclusion of Yom Kippur, when the decree is finalized for us. There are other chances, later in the holidays following Yom Kippur and even through Chanukah, but the main decree comes on Yom Kippur. That’s what we’re all working toward.
Our teshuva has to be testified by G-d, who knows the truth of our hearts. When we say we will be good, G-d knows the true testimony, the heart, the future. G-d knows what’s for real, or not. So, we need to be as real as possible in the process as well.
The day of Yom Kippur, the evening and the following day of fasting, consists of different confessions expressing sorrow for what we have done… “this is what I did, and I won’t do it again.” This, of course, is the verbal part of confession. The other component is the emotional part, genuinely feeling sorry and remorseful, and determining not to do it again.
It’s a good idea to begin the day with a sheet of paper listing what we’ve done, the things for which we want to repent. This is the time of year we diligently practice the three Ts – teshuva, tzedakah and tefilla, which is repentance, charity and prayer. Those are the three things that can banish a bad decree against us.
That’s a short description of the service of Yom Kippur. Hopefully, we come out of this day as a new person, refreshed and renewed, compared to the person we were before Yom Kippur. Each of us is hoping for a whole, new, purified version of ourselves.
Here are some of things I want to explore on Rosh Hashana:
Rosh Hashana is a judgment day unlike any other judgment day, because we dress in white instead of black, we eat apples and honey for sweetness, and we are experiencing a mixture of fear and love at the same time. We trust that it will all work out and that the King, the Judge, forgives us in the end. We are closer to the Judge during this time, more than any other time of the year.
So, it’s not simply a message of judgment, but also a much deeper message. You could say that G-d is making an inventory of everybody and everything in his world, and where they are, how they are fitting in to the plan. G-d wants to recreate the world, so he needs to assess who has a part in the plan now.
If who you are and who you have been makes you a good fit for the “new company,” which is the world as it’s being created. If not, there will be problems.
So, first, we need to come into Rosh Hashana and realize who we are and how we fit into G-d’s new world. We want to be partners with G-d in his new world.
Second, we need to understand that Rosh Hashana is a day of conception of the whole year. It could be described as “spiritual genetic engineering,” because we are literally being conceived anew, like a child being conceived by a man and a woman.
The lasting influence on a child, from the night it was conceived, endures throughout its lifetime. The time of conception has more influence than anything else in a child’s life, including the education, care and all other influences.
That’s what is happening for us on Rosh Hashana. We are conceiving our year on that day. So, our mood, our intentions, our plan, our vision, our clarity, our mission and our connection to G-d on that day is critical. It is the most important time because everything else will follow the beginning. The way we begin things is usually the way it plays out. When we begin a day in a good mood, thanking G-d and going with it, our whole day is affected.
And our whole year goes like that, too, when we begin our year in that fashion. It’s very important to begin the year in a very positive and very meaningful way.
It’s important to remember that we are not the ones doing the judging. G-d is doing the judging on Rosh Hashana. Don’t think that you have to get the prayers right or you have to feel a certain way at a certain time, despite interruptions in the services, when the shofar is blowing or any other time… Who knows what’s really happening for you? G-d’s eyes are not our eyes.
It might be that you had to get up in the middle of the night to change diapers or soothe a crying child, and those are the things that set the course for a great year for you this year. We don’t know any of that. We just need to go with the belief that G-d is judging us, and we are not judging ourselves or others.
Of course, there are ways we can sweeten-up the judgment. We can start by not judging others harshly, so that, measure-for-measure G-d will not judge us harshly.
And we can work on judging ourselves. If we take care of it, G-d won’t have to take care of it for us. We can judge ourselves by seeing who we are, what we are doing and where we want to go.
As our Sages tell us, we will be written in one of three books on Rosh Hashana. We can write ourselves into the book of the righteous, the book of the living or the book of the good. Or, we can write ourselves into the “middle way.” We are the ones doing the writing, because G-d has said, “You choose where you want to go.”
We need to come into Rosh Hashana with clarity on our choice as well. The ten days of Teshuva between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur are the days we are closest to G-d, more than any other time of year. That’s a significant difference between Rosh Hashana and every other time of year, because normally we are not supposed to be close to a judge. A judge is supposed to be objective and not as close to us as possible.
But, G-d is different, so we, too, are different when we choose to take advantage of the time to be close, to talk to G-d and to listen. It’s also a good time to make radical changes in our lives, with the least amount of effort. Think of it, once again, as conception – you can create a whole new you more easily in these days, pre, post and during Rosh Hashana. It’s easier during this time than any other time of year, and you can take it to a whole, new level. It’s a great time to accomplish this.
Also, this is the time to partner-up with G-d. It’s the time to figure out what you’re doing in your life, and then to say, “G-d, here I am. You and I are partners. What can I do with my talents to help further your rectification and healing of the world?”
Do that, and you’ll be infinitely inspired and empowered to do whatever you are called to do. Essentially, G-d says, “You do for me, I’ll do for you.” That’s what partnership is all about.
Rosh Hashana is also the day that Adam was created, the first day of Adam, so to speak. That makes it the perfect day to consider how we can get back to the Garden of Eden. Just as Adam was put to sleep and Eve was created from part of him, and Adam found her as a separate being, the same thing happens with us and G-d. We (humans) represent the female and G-d represents the male, and we come together like Adam and Eve.
We can see ourselves independently, and able to enter into a relationship, a partnership with G-d. The whole month of Tishrei is a courting process between us and the King.
It’s the time of Life, the book of Life is open and we have to appreciate what Life is all about, how precious it is, and how we need to dig down to find and see how every aspect of our lives is valuable.
The first one is – Without government, people would swallow each other alive. Therefore, pray for them. The idea here is that we have to realize that, even though we may not agree with the government, unless it’s a horrible, deathly, dangerous dictatorship, we should pray that it has stability, so that people don’t swallow each other alive, only living according to the law of the jungle.
The next idea has to do with when we are sitting around the table – There we should talk words of Torah. Talking words of Torah invites in G-d’s presence, and not talking words of Torah invites in the opposite while we are eating.
Unless we are eating forbidden things, eating is sort of a neutral activity, and while we’re eating we have the ability to either raise up or draw down. So, we see the opportunity to take something as mundane and commonplace as eating, which is something everyone does, and infuse it with Torah learning, which draws G-d into the experience.
The next one is a big one – A person who takes upon themselves the burden of Torah will be absolved from the burden of taxes, and also the burden of going to work. These things are true only to the extent that a person takes on the burden of Torah.
Let’s say a person takes on a 7% burden of Torah, on a sliding scale, then his other burdens are lessened by that amount. We are talking about a spiritual principal here, something that’s going to happen by itself. We’re not talking about Jewish legislation, because that is provided for also when all the conditions of society and the legal system are in place. But we’re not really talking about that.
We’re talking about what’s going to happen when a person takes upon himself the same kind of a burden (this is a heavy idea..) he takes upon himself to earn a living. If you would put that much energy, and discipline, dedication and stability into Torah, then you wouldn’t need to put it into the other things.
That’s a very thoughtful one.
The next saying is about a person’s deeds, meaning what they do. If their deeds exceed their wisdom, their deeds will endure. When their wisdom exceeds their deeds, meaning they are just theoretical, those deeds will just fade away. They won’t have endurance.
The next saying is sort of a mind-blowing idea, and I anticipate huge questions on this one –If a person is pleasing to their fellow human, that’s a sign they are pleasing to G-d. And, the opposite is true as well. We can see some lowdown human beings who might win celebrity or popularity contests, but they appear to be sort of horrible human beings…. How can G-d love them?
That’s the kind of question you should ask. And the kind of answers you should search for may come from deeper questions, such as, “Is this person really pleasing for the right reasons, or not?”
The next one is – A person should receive everybody with happiness. Just be a good person, emanating goodness. That’s how we should deal with people, although it’s not always easy or even possible. But it’s a maxim for life.
The next one is – The way to ensure wisdom is to be quiet. Silence aids wisdom. In other words, not only do you receive wisdom when you’re silent, but the best way you receive wisdom is to be able to hear what others are actually saying. That’s how you get wisdom from other people. And after you’ve heard what they say, you should be silent and let your mind process it as well.
The next one is – A human is beloved because they are created in the image of G-d. We have to understand that there’s an aspect of G-d that’s unfathomable and therefore, unknowable. The aspect of G-d with which G-d has let Himself be known is one which is in sync with human beings in the world. It is a universal image, that of the human being. Because of that image, a human being is holy and beloved.
This explains some Jewish laws, such those regarding the treatment of the dead, which are really for the benefit of the living. Seeing a dead body too long after death desecrates the image of G-d. The human has to be a body with the soul inside it, and that’s the source of the beloved-ness of the image.
The next one is – When there is no Torah, there is no income. And the opposite is also true. In other words, if a person has no income, Torah is going to be hard to come by as well. A person needs words of Torah to make it happen. If there’s no Torah, when they should be learning Torah, when they should be engaged in that activity, then their lives won’t be blessed with the income to deal with it.
The last one for today talks about the value of time. It basically says, the description of living in this world is like this analogy – The store is open, and we can borrow on credit, but we must pay back what we borrow. When everything is taken into account at the end of our lives, we will see exactly what we owe. The judgment is, in fact, a judgment of truth… the truth of what we owe.
This analogy teaches us that we cannot think we’re entitled to everything we get. This life is not about entitlement. Some people feel entitled to everything; they want it and they expect to get it.
Our Sages teach us this is not true. This world belongs to G-d, and if you choose to do what you should do, some of the world can belong to you, too. Start by recognizing G-d, and by being a good person, but if not, just remember G-d holds us accountable for whatever we receive, and for our very lives, in general.
It’s all about appreciating every minute of our lives, and every possession we own as precious to us.
Now I’d like to address the second chapter of Pirkei Avot, The Sayings of Our Fathers. These are some of my favorite sayings, the ones that resonate with me.
The first one is – three things keep a person away from sin: an eye that sees, an ear that hears, and knowing that all your acts are recorded in a book. This was a way one of our Sages said that we need to have visualizations, in order to keep us in line, in order to keep us from doing stuff we don’t want to be doing.
It’s very common to quote this saying at people’s funerals, because it represents fear of G-d, a fear of heaven. It’s like being a video. If we understand that our words and actions are recorded, 24/7, just as though we’re on a video recording, and from my interaction with people who have had near-death experiences and see a “video” of their lives as the time of their passing, we can’t foolishly think we’re getting away with anything. It’s all there, and it’s all clear. We have to be aware of that.
The second thing is that we need to be cautious of the ruling authorities. They only befriend you for their present interests. At first they appear as friends, but in a time of distress for them, they are not likely to stand by as a friend. I think it’s interesting our Sages picked up on this one ‘way, ‘way back when. We tend to think this is a modern, political dilemma we’re experiencing currently, meaning leaders failing to represent the people who voted them in, and deferring instead to their own interests.
Our best response to this behavior is to keep a healthy distance from the ruling authorities, and to take heed if you are in the position of authority. Politics makes for strange bedfellows, as they say, and when you think the other person is on your side, but it’s a question of political power, you’d better look out. So, this wisdom goes ‘way, ‘way back.
The next one is this – make G-d’s will your will, so that G-d will make your will His will. That’s a tricky one.
In other words, if you do what you can, if you study G-d’s will and try to adapt it to yourself, you are likely to wind up doing what G-d wants you to do. That’s the natural effect, the payoff, so to speak. It goes on to say that you should nullify your own will in the face of G-d’s will, which means, as a result, that G-d will nullify the unfavorable will of others toward you. In other words, your will may be done.
In a nut shell, we are talking about connecting up your will with G-d’s will. Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan says that when a person fuses his will with G-d’s will, his potential for transforming the world into a heavenly kingdom is unlimited. You become G-d’s right-hand man or woman, and your power to get things done becomes unlimited. That is one way to live a miraculous and above-nature life.
The next one is this – Don’t think that you’re ever through learning. No matter how old you are or how much you know, it’s possible to do something really stupid to mess up your life. For example, Yochanan the High Priest, who lived back in the days of the Holy Temple. He was the High Priest, the holiest man in the land, the one who granted forgiveness in the Holy of Holies once a year, going where no other man was allowed to enter.
But in the 80th year, he lost it. He got involved with certain types of fallen groups, and he took on their philosophy and lost what he had. We all have to understand that every day is a battle with our evil inclination, and that no matter how old and weak we become we can lose it. We have to be on our guard at all times.
The next saying is this – a shy person will never learn and a stringent person will never be able to teach. That idea is pretty self-explanatory, but we should understand that you have to be a sort of nudnik to property learn. It’s hard.
You’re sitting in any situation and you find that the one who comes out ahead is the one who is asking questions. Judaism, perhaps more than any other religion, encourages us to constantly ask questions, to see other sides and get clarity. We are a nation of holy skeptics. We will question and keeping questioning anything that is not clear. If you question, you will learn. If you won’t question, you won’t learn.
And the teacher must have infinite patience. That’s what makes a teacher a teacher. They have to understand it’s not about furthering themselves, but to give over that knowledge to others, and to repeat it over and over, possibly hundreds of times.
Another saying is this one – in a place where there are no people, try to be a person. In a place where there’s no mensch, where there’s no proper, respectful, human being, you be a human being. I’ve run into this in my life many times, and it’s a directive regarding Jewish leadership and what it’s all about.
Our leaders don’t run for office, they run away from office. But they will step up when necessary, when there’s nobody else willing to do the job. That’s what leadership is all about. We don’t want it, but we will do it if we have to do it.
The next saying is this – a person who goes above and beyond, who does an inordinate amount of one thing will have the result of something else, both negative and positive. For example, a person who is a glutton and eats too much meat will have worms in their body when they pass away. A person who collects an inordinate amount of possessions will have a great deal of worry in their life. A person who has an inordinate amount of gathering Torah will have a great deal of life in their life. A person who is inordinately charitable will have an extraordinary amount of peace in their life.
Here’s the next one – Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zachai was in a discussion with a number of his students about what trait is the one that encompasses all other traits. They agreed that the #1 trait is a good heart, because a good heart contains all the other good traits, such as being a good friend, being a good neighbor, and being a person who sees what’s going to come from their actions. A good heart contains all the other good traits. A good heart is the essence of what a human being is.
The next one is this – the nature of a true scholar, a true Sage, is one who has an abundance of the element of fire. True scholarship, true Torah is passion. Therefore, you have to understand that when you’re playing with fire you can get either warmed or burned, helped or harmed. Keeping a healthy distance means you’ll get warm, but it you get too close you’ll get burned.
And the next one is don’t make your prayer redundant or habitual. Make your prayer full of true, heartfelt connection to G-d. Our Sages say it’s better to pray a little, tiny bit with heart than to pray a whole lot without it.
And the next one is don’t be evil in your own eyes. This is such an important one today. People put themselves down in place where they shouldn’t, and they lift themselves up in places where they shouldn’t. Here we’re talking specifically about, in your own eyes, understanding that there’s part of yourself that is a holy soul. Don’t put yourself down. You have something to say which nobody else can say.
And the last one for today is about the preciousness of time. Our Sages say, “The day is short, the task is great, the workers are lazy and the reward is great.” We’ve got to know that every second counts. So, don’t be a waster of time. Time is the most important thing, because this life is full of jewels to be corrected at all times, and in all ways.
What I’d like to do is speak about the end of the Passover holiday, which is basically concerned with the crossing of the Red Sea.
On the seventh day of Passover, in history and energetically in our lives right now, we crossed and crossed the Red Sea. That crossing was affected by a whole different level of Divine Providence, which the Kabbalah refers to as ATIK.
ATIK is the highest of the sephirot, a type of Divine Providence that super-cedes, in a miraculous way, everything that happens to us as human beings. It’s what G-d put into practice in all the miraculous events that happened – Passover, Red Sea, manna, Mount Sinai, the ten plagues – the whole kit and caboodle was ATIK, meaning “shifting oneself, or move yourself over,” in Hebrew.
It means putting yourself into a different state of receptivity, and to believe in miracles as a person who is in sync with miraculous, Divine Providence. That’s what was demanded, and it’s what’s demanded of us in crossing the Red Sea, which represents certain death. Historically, the Egyptians were chasing us. They were more powerful. It was a nation of warriors chasing a nation of slaves, and of course there was the sea. We were not a nation of Olympic swimmers at all, and there were also wild animals to contend with, as well as accusers in heaven.
When the people started screaming, G-d asked us, “Why are you screaming?” And the people replied, “We were screaming as slaves, to get out of Egypt, and so we’re screaming now, too.”
But G-d said, “No, this is different, this is about action. It’s about trust in G-d, which is even higher than screaming or prayer, and which is demonstrated by action.” We had to put our money where our mouth is, and just jump into the sea.
Essentially, G-d said, “I’ve never told you to jump in the sea, and I know it doesn’t make sense, but I’m telling you to trust the process, trust Me to do it.” He told us everything would be ok, and it was ok.
So, we leaped into the sea, in an impossible situation. That leaping into the sea is parallel to many situations in our lives and in our history. It’s a leap when Esther, in the Purim story, said, “If I’m lost, I’m lost. If I die, I die. But I’m going in to talk to the King, and to tell him not to commit a holocaust on my people.” Esther was willing to give herself up and leap into her sea, and it worked, and she won.
That’s how it happened for Esther, and for Moses, and for others who were willing to make a nothing of themselves by trusting in the process and trusting that G-d would get them through.
It’s the same for us, for our process, too, as we leap into an impossible situation. When we do that, and to the extent we do it, that’s how we bring on miracles. We bring on miracles by shifting ourselves in a reflective, mirror-like fashion, which shifts the way G-d looks down upon us as well.
We parallel these historical, Biblical happenings in our lives whenever we have no choice but to totally give it up to G-d. When that happens, G-d sees we are completely self-nullified in that situation, and then the “crossing of the Red Sea” type miracles will happen to us. But first we must leap. We must close our eyes and go with G-d in a whole, different way, not the normal, day-to-day, reward and punishment kind of way. This super-cedes all of that.
That’s what the seventh day of Passover is all about.