Sunday, September 23, 2018

We Should Strive To Be A Lulav

All Sukkos Articles
It is explained, that everything that Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are about, Sukkos has as well. The difference between them, is that on the High Holidays, it is in a hidden way and on Sukkos, it is in a revealed way.

For example, the unity of the Jewish people. On Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, since we connect to the essence of our souls, we are essentially one. When it comes to the essence of our souls, there is no difference between the heads of the Jewish people, and the most unlettered of our folk, the essence is the same, it is actually one. Sukkos, on the other hand, the unity of the Jewish people is revealed. In this unity, the differences of the Jewish people are clearly recognizable, there are heads and common folk, but we are united and we can't do without one another.

This is seen in the mitzvah of taking of the four kinds, the lulav, esrog, Hadassim and aravos. The Midrash tells us, that they represent the four kinds of Jews. The esrog which has both taste and smell, represent those who learn Torah, which has flavor, and do mitzvahs, the aroma of Judaism. The lulov is a frond of the date palm, the date has good flavor, but it has no distinct aroma, it represents those who learn Torah, but are not so much involved in mitzvahs. The hadas is a myrtle, which has a nice fragrance, but not a pleasant taste. It represents those of us who do mitzvahs, but aren't so involved in Torah study. The Arava has no distinctive smell or taste, it represents those of us who are not so involved in Torah or mitzvahs.

The Midrash concludes, "Hashem says, 'let them all be bound together in a bundle and they will atone for each other.'"

One of the differences between the High Holidays and Sukkos, is that on Rosh Hashanah we have the shofar, and on Yom Kippur you have teshuva, and in both of them, you don't recognize the differences amongst the people, everyone is equal. However, on Sukkos the differences are clearly recognizable, yet we are together as one. And what more, we are not complete without all four kinds of Jews, just as in the mitzvah of lulav, you can have the most beautiful esrog, lulav and Hadassim, but if you are missing the aravos, you have nothing, you can't do the mitzvah.

If the esrog represents both Torah and mitzvahs, why do we say the blessing over the lulov? We say, "Al netilas lulav."

The simple reason, is because it is the tallest of the four kinds, so we say the blessing over it. But everything in Torah has layers of meaning to it, we must conclude that there is something about the lulov, that is greater than all of the other of the four. We also know that everything that is in the physical takes its form, because in its spiritual source it is that way. That means that the lulov is not only taller physically, but it has a spiritual advantage over the others as well. What does the lulov have over the rest?

Another question. All of the other items, have the smell or taste or the lack of, on their own, with the exception of the lulov, it is the date that has the flavor, not the frond. Why is the lulov different?

To understand this, we first have to understand the difference between the connection we make with Hashem through doing mitzvahs, and through Torah study. The Zohar calls the mitzvahs, "the limbs of the King," and he says about Torah, that "Torah and Hashem are entirely one."

In a body, the limbs receive life from the nefesh (the life force), and while they automatically respond to the will of the nefesh, you don't have to think "I want to move my hand," for it to move, rather, as soon as you want to move it, it moves, yet the nefesh only gives life to, and controls the limbs, but the limbs are not one with the nefesh.

The same is true about mitzvahs, they are the will of Hashem, and when we do them, we are accepting the yoke of Hashem and connecting to Him, yet by doing mitzvahs, we are not one with Hashem.

However, when one studies Torah with diligence, and grasps a Torah concept in its full length and breadth, since "The Torah and Hashem are entirely one," when you get the concept, you are understanding Hashem's wisdom, which is one with Him, so you are one with Him.

Now we can understand why we say the blessing over the lulov, because the lulov represents those of us who are Torah scholars, of course they also do the mitzvahs, that is an outcome of their Torah study, but their main focus is studying Torah, which makes them one with Hashem. So the lulov is greater than the esrog, and that is why we say the blessing over it.

This will help us understand another thing about the mitzvah of taking the four kinds. The law is that the lulov has to be at least four tefachim, one higher than the Hadassim and aravos, in order that you should be able to shake it.

When the neshama is in heaven, it is called "standing," because although it goes up level after level, it is all part of the program, and it can't leave it, it can't break free to attain a whole new level that is not part of the program. On the other hand, when the neshama is in the physical world, in the body, through doing Torah and mitzvahs, it can break free and attain infinite levels. And this yearning is expressed by the neshama in the physical, by the way we shake (shukkel) when we daven and learn Torah.

The Zohar explains why we shukkel. He says, that a neshama is like a flame of a candle. Just as the flame flickers constantly because it wants to leave the wick and connect to its source, so too, the neshama is constantly yearning to become one with its source, Hashem, and the physical expression of this, is that we shukkel.

And because, as mentioned earlier, the most intimate connection is through Torah study, we shukkel when we learn Torah. One would think that it would be the opposite, Torah study is an intellectual pursuit, it would make sense to be cold and intellectual, and that we would be completely still when studying it. However, since we are connecting with Hashem, Who is infinite, and when we do that, we are moving higher and higher, our neshamas are moved, and so, we shukkel.

This shukkeling, is not only the physical movement we do when studying, but it also the way the study of Torah works, it shukkels, there has to be constant unrest. first, he could never be happy with what he already knows. And if he is studying it correctly, he will always feel like he has only scratched the surface, and yearn to know more. Second, the way Torah is studied, is that when you first learn a part of it, you see it one way, and then when you think about it, you are filled with questions. So you learn it again, and you begin to see it from a different angle, and some of your questions are answered. Then you learn it again and again, every time gaining a new and deeper perspective, and hopefully new questions. When you learn Torah, you are constantly yearning for more.

And now we will understand why we take the lulav, which is the frond of the date palm, and not the date itself that has the flavor. Because, as mentioned above, taking the four kinds together, represents the unity of the Jewish people. In order to have unity, there is the prerequisite of humility and self nullification, if a person has a big ego or is arrogant, he will not be able to unify with others, because there is only him. The one who has to be most humble, is the one who has the highest status, the Torah scholar. The date, which has the flavor, represents the prize, the final product. The lulav is there to protect the fruit, so that it will be able to grow successfully. So the lulov is part of the means, to the date that is the end.

In Torah, having the date would mean that you already know it, that you already have it, that attitude can breed arrogance. On the other hand, the lulov represents working to get the prize, and that you you haven't reached it yet, and that breeds humility.

A Torah scholar has to be the unifier, and therefore, the most humble. He has to be a beacon of leadership, and a living example for the esrog, Hadassim and aravos Jews. And when he is, he will have a tremendous effect on them, and when he shukkels, when he goes the extra mile, he takes the others with him, just as when you shake the lulav, all the rest of the four kinds are shaken as well.

On a deeper level, at different times, we are all a lulav, an etrog, a hadas or an arava. At those special moments that we are at the level of the lulov, we should put in the effort so that it will raise the other parts of you. So when you are studying Torah, doing mitzvahs, and even when you are doing neither, meaning, when you are working, eating, exercising, etc., it is all for Hashem.

This Sukkos, when we shake the lulav, we should see the value of every Jew, but we should strive for those lulav moments, and raise the entirety of ourselves. If we do, we will be a living example for our brothers and sisters, raising them up as well. This way, we will surely merit to enter the ultimate Sukka, the Sukka of David, the Beis Hamikdash, with the coming of Moshiach. May he come soon. 

Monday, September 17, 2018

Maftir Yonah

Dedicated Anonymously 
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The Haftora we read on Yom Kippur afternoon is called Maftir Yonah. It is the longest of all Haftoras, it consists of the entire book of Yona and three verses from the book of Micha. It tells the story of our prophet Yona, who Hashem sent on a mission to Nineveh, to tell them to repent for their bad ways. 

The Jewish people, at the time, were at odds with Yona, disrespecting him and calling him a false prophet. Because twice he foretold of calamities that the Jewish people would experience if they wouldn't do teshuva, and both times they didn't come to pass. However, the rule is, that if a prophet foretells of a future calamity, and it doesn't happen, it does not reflect on his status as a prophet, because Hashem prolongs His patience, and also if the people return to Hashem, like the people of Nineveh did, the calamity would be averted, and the Jewish people were not doing teshuva. Thinking that Nineveh would listen to him and repent, and it would look poorly on the Jewish people, he chose to run away. 

Everybody is familiar with the rest of the story. The ship he was running away on, was experiencing an abnormally rough sea, and at the same time, they were witnessing other ships passing by them in relative calm. They realized that it was from Hashem. They drew lots to see which of them were at fault. The lot pointed at Yona, who told them why this was happening, and they threw him off the boat. A fish swallowed him, and after three days he was spit out of the fish on the shore. He went to Nineveh, told them to repent and they did, and the city was saved. 

Leaving Nineveh, the sun was so hot, Hashem made a kikayon plant grow and Yona took shade under it. Then Hashem sent a worm to kill the kikayon, it couldn't shade him any more, and he began lamenting over the loss of the kikayon. Hashem reprimanded him, because he felt bad for the kikayon, which was no more than a plant, however about the city of Nineveh, which had over a million inhabitants, he was ready to allow them to be destroyed. 

The last few verses from Micha, remind us of Hashem's Thirteen Attributes of Mercy, central to Yom Kippur. 

Why is this Haftora read at mincha on Yom Kippur? 

First, like Yona, we can't run from Hashem, and from the mission he wants us to do. Second, it is a story about teshuva, and the power of teshuva, that even the wicked city of Nineveh, who were not Jewish, repented and were forgiven by Hashem. How much more so, if we do teshuva, He will grant us forgiveness. Also, we see that reading it or listening to it, evokes a wanting to do teshuva.. 

Our sages say, "You should know the power of teshuva, come and see from Pharaoh king of Egypt," that after he sinned he did teshuva, "he went and became king in Nineveh... and when Hashem sent for Yona to say prophecy about its destruction, Pharoah heard and he stood up and rend his garments, and he dressed in sack and ashes." As the Haftora tells us. 

It is said by mincha, because mincha on Yom Kippur is a preparation for the holiest prayer of the day, Neila, and because our sages say about the greatness of the mincha prayer, that Eliyahu wasn't answered, but by the mincha prayer. Mincha time on Yom Kippur is also the holiest time, it is called "raava d'raavin," the time of the "ultimate good will" of Hashem, and when it comes to doing teshuva, it's the most opportune time. 

It is our custom to call this Haftora Maftir Yonah. It begs the question: If it is all about teshuva, why don't we call it Haftoras teshuva? But we don't, another Haftora gets that designation, the Haftora of Shabbos Shuva, between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. It seems so strange and even callous to call the Haftora of the holiest day and the holiest time of that day, Maftir Yonah. There must be something about this name that recalls the holiness and the essence of the day. So why is it called Maftir Yonah? 

The answer that is given for this, is in accordance to what the Zohar says, that Yona is symbolic of the descent of the neshama into the body, from its incredible heights to the lowest place. The Zohar goes on to explain the details of the story of Yona and how they mirror the journey of the neshama. When the neshama is in the body, it has to deal with things that it never had to deal with in the highest of heights from where it came from. It would have to eat and drink and do other things that people have to do, just like animals. For the neshama to get the body to do what Hashem wants, it has to be like Yona, from the word onaa (trickery). The neshama has to use cleverness, involving itself in regular mundane matters, which are completely foreign to her, eating, drinking, working, etc., just so that the body and the animal soul will come along with her and serve Hashem. And that is the purpose of the neshama in the body, to influence it. 

The Haftora says, "And Yona got up and fled away from Hashem, to Tarshish," thinking that outside of Israel, he would stop to receive prophecy. Why do we read the whole book of Yona, the whole beginning of the story is not about teshuva, it is about Yona running away? Because he showed self sacrificed for the Jewish people. The law is, that a prophet is not permitted to quell his prophecy, but as mentioned earlier, he didn't want it to look bad for the Jewish people, because Nineveh would do teshuva, while they refused to. So great was his love for the Jewish people, that he was willing to go against the Torah law, to save them. This is because he understood that the Jewish people are one with Hashem, above Torah and mitzvahs, so he ran. 

The beginning of the Haftora brings out this special connection between the Jewish people and Hashem, and we want to emphasize this for two reasons. First, because emphasizing this connection between us and Hashem, will motivate us to do teshuva, since we would surely want to repair any strain on that relationship. And second, because we want Hashem to accept our teshuva more readily, since we are one with Him. 

The Haftora says, "The water was becoming increasingly turbulent around them... And they picked up Yona and threw him into the sea." 

The Rambam says, "A boat that seems like it's going to break because of its heavy load, and one of them stood up and lightened the load by tossing things into the sea, he is not liable, because the load on it, is like someone chasing after them, to kill them, he did a great mitzvah, because he tossed things and saved them." 

As mentioned above, the story of Yona, is the descent of the neshama into the world, and in this passage of the Rambam, we are taken deeper into the analogy. The neshama descends into the boat which is the body and it navigates through the waters all its life, the purpose is that when it reaches its destination, after a hundred and twenty years, the neshama is at a far higher level than when it first entered the body. 

There is always "a lot of water," meaning, that there are the worries of making a living and the normal responsibilities of life. Sometimes the water is calm and other times it is turbulent. And at times, it is so turbulent, "that it seems like it's going to break because of its heavy load." The load or the burden we carry are Torah and mitzvahs, and the very turbulent waters, is this dark and bitter exile. 

The Rambam says, "One of them stood up and lightened the load by tossing things into the sea." The "One" is Hashem, and when He sent us into the turbulent exile, He saw that we were going to break under the heavy load of Torah and mitzvahs, so He threw much of our load into the sea, not in a negative way, that He threw them out, rather, He placed them in the upper waters, in the heavenly abode, preserving them for us, until the time of Moshiach, when, "The earth will be filled with the knowledge of Hashem, like the waters cover the sea." 

When gems are thrown into the water, they are not destroyed, rather they are preserved until they are once again found, and at that time, they are more valuable than when they were first thrown in. 

From all the two hundred and forty eight positive mitzvahs, we are only able to keep eighty seven of them in exile. And the ones that we can't do, are some of the greatest and most serious of mitzvahs, the laws of purity and impurity, and all of the laws pertaining to the Temple service, even the Yom Kippur service, done by the Kohen Gadol in the Holy of Holies. 

Why did Hashem lighten our load of Torah and mitzvahs? This is because, as mentioned earlier, the Jewish people are higher than Torah and mitzvahs, meaning, that when it comes to saving the Jewish people, from drowning in the turbulent exile, Hashem tosses the burden and saves the Jewish people. And the Rambam says that He did a "great mitzvah." Because, what point is there to mitzvahs, if there are no Jewish people? And this is similar to the destruction of the Temple, Hashem destroyed His home of wood and stone and saved the Jewish people, because we are higher. 

Another explanation of the boat, is that it refers to Torah and mitzvahs, which protects us and saves us from the very turbulent waters of the exile. It is through keeping Torah and mitzvahs that we are saved, and the same Torah and mitzvahs refine the world and reveal the G-dly essence of all existence. We even have an affect on the nations of the world, as in the story of Yona, all the people of Nineveh, even their king, did teshuva. 

All of our effort to keep Torah and mitzvahs, brings us to our desired destination, the greatest revelation of Hashem, with the coming of Moshiach. As the Haftora says, "And the word of Hashem came to Yona a second time..." Meaning, that he received a higher level of prophecy. 

On the ship that Yona went on, there was a captain, sailors and passengers, yet Yona told them, "This great turbulence has come upon you because of me." This is an important lesson to us, that when there is turmoil in the world, it is "because of me," meaning, for the benefit of the Jewish people. As the Midrash says, "When you see nations antagonizing one another, look for the footsteps of Moshiach." 

We see from this story of teshuva, that even those who are not Jewish, are obligated to do teshuva, not as a mitzvah of its own, like our obligation, but as part of the Seven Mitzvahs of the Children of Noach. They have a mitzvah to negate false deities and only serve Hashem, teshuva is included in that mitzvah. And we see from this story, that we are obligated to have an affect on the nations of the world, the children of Noach, that they should follow in Hashem's ways, namely, the Laws of Noach. 

How did Yona become a prophet? The Talmud Yerushalmi says about Simchas Beis Hashoeiva, "Yona son of Amitai entered into Simchas Beis Hashoeiva and the Divine Inspiration rested upon him." That is why it is called Simchas Beis Hashoeiva (drawing),  "because Divine Inspiration is drawn from there."

Simchas Beis Hashoeiva happened on Sukkos nights in the Temple, in the area of the Women's Gallery. Water would be drawn from the Shiloach spring, and it would be offered on the Temple altar, as a libation. All night the righteous danced, while the other men and the women looked on. There was no greater joy, as our sages say, "Whoever hasn't seen Simchas Beis Hashoeiva, has not seen joy in his life."

There were certainly many great and holy people at the Simchas Beis Hashoeiva. Why does the Talmud Yerushalmi single out Yona, from all the other great people that were at the festivities?

It is because the whole idea of Simchas Beis Hashoeiva, is that we have the power to overcome any obstacle, through the power of joy. And as mentioned above, the story of Yona is about the descent of the neshama into the world, this is telling us that we have the power to overcome any obstacle, and accomplish our mission. Ultimately we will reach our destination.

Telling us about Yona's ability of prophecy, is particularly important, because his abilities continued after the festivities came to an end, and even outside the land of Israel. That means that the prophecy that was drawn at Simchas Beis Hashoeiva in the Temple, continues after the festivities. It continues on in every generation and in all places until the coming of Moshiach.

Yona is the one who teaches us the power of teshuva, even when it comes to other nations and even outside the land of Israel. As the Talmud tells us, that the people of Nineveh were so affected by Yona, they returned stolen objects, even the ones that they had a long time, and were handled in such a way, that they were not obligated to return them by law.

How much more so, we Jewish people, are affected by Yona, his story, his struggles and his love for the Jewish people. That we can repair any blemish in our relationship with Hashem, and through teshuva we attain a level of connection to Hashem, that is far stronger and higher than mitzvahs and Torah without teshuva.

So it is Yona that teaches us about the power of teshuva, and how far and high teshuva can take you. That is why it is called "Maftir Yona."

May Hashem accept our teshuva, and may our teshuva bring us to our desired destination, the ultimate redemption, when we will witness the greatest revelation of Hashem, greater than any prophecy. May it happen now. 

Friday, September 14, 2018

The Thirteenth Gate

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In this week's parsha, Vayelech, it says that Moshe commanded the people of the tribe of Levi, who carry the Aron, "Take this Torah scroll and place it alongside the (tablets of the Ten Commandments that were in the) Ark of the Covenant." 

The Midrash tells us, that Moshe wrote Thirteen Torahs, one for each of the twelve tribes, and the thirteenth was to be put in to the Ark of the Covenant, that if an issue arises with any of the Torahs, they will be able to check the thirteenth, and clarify the issue. 

Parshas Vayelech is always read either on the Shabbos before Rosh Hashanah, or between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. The Shaloh Hakadosh tells us that the parsha is connected to the time of year that it is read. That means that Vayelech is connected to Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and the Ten Days of Teshuva. 

What does this idea of the thirteenth Torah have to do with the High Holidays? 

The twelve tribes each had a Torah of their own, this symbolized that every tribe, had their own path in Torah. That is why there are different customs in different areas, and one should follow the law according to the opinion of the Rabbi of his or her city, because both "These and these are the words of the Living G-d." This is because every one of our souls come down a certain path, and we connect through our path. 

This is also true when it comes to our personal relationship with Hashem, our love and fear of Him, every one of us our different. Each of us is at a different level and we have a unique way of connecting to Him. That is the way it is supposed to be. 

These differences are in the details, each community and person has different details that they highlight. However in the general aspects of Judaism we are all the same. 

This is expressed by the idea of a thirteenth Torah, there is a point where we are all the same and included in one Torah, which can never change. The deeper one delves into Torah, especially the esoteric, and into our neshamas essence, the more we are the same and those details become irrelevant. 

The same thing is taught about the different nusachs - prayer systems - they are based on the "thirteen times they would prostrate, which is for the thirteen gates in the third Temple." 

Every tribe has a gate from which to enter, and then there is the thirteenth, all inclusive gate, that everyone can enter. Now that most of us don't know which tribe we are from, we would all enter the thirteenth gate. The nusach that the Arizal made is all inclusive, it is the thirteenth gate, that all of us can go through. 

Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi (the Alter Rebbe), was the first Rebbe of Chabad. Everything he did was to make things in a way that it will be all inclusive, that any Jewish person could do it that way and it would be good for his or her neshama. 

When the Alter Rebbe made the siddur that Chabad uses, he had sixty nusachs of the siddur in front of him to reference. He winnowed and sifted it out, until it was refined and good for every neshama. 

The same is true for the Shulchan Aruch that he wrote, known as the Shulchan Aruch Harav, and with the chasidus that he wrote, the Tanya and more. He didn't write it specifically for his chasidim, rather that it should be all inclusive, for any neshama. 

Now we can understand why the teaching of the thirteenth Torah, that Moshe had them put into the Ark of the Covenant, in the Holy of Holies, is read this time of year. Everyone comes to shul this time of year, the most observant of the Jewish people to the least. It has to be a time of love and inclusiveness between the Jewish people, we don't have to focus on our differences, we have to look deeper into the essence of who we are, until we see that we are all the same, we all learn from the thirteenth Torah and enter the thirteenth gate. It is this love for each other that is the foundation and the starting point for everything we do this time of year. Because, how can we return to Hashem with teshuva, and how can we ask Hashem to grant us our needs, when we are at odds with his beloved children? 

Through our love for every neshama, we will come closer to Hashem, He will surely grant us all our needs, and we will certainly have a sweet year. 

If we act with love for one another, we will soon merit to enter the thirteenth gate, together with all of our Jewish brothers and sisters, and see the third and final Temple, with the coming of Moshiach. May he come soon. 

Friday, September 7, 2018

United And As One Grants Us A Good Year

Parshas Netzavim is always read on the Shabbos before Rosh Hashanah, which is the Shabbos before the month of Tishrei. Every Shabbos that precedes a new month, is called Shabbos Mevarchim, because we bless the new month. The only month that we don't bless, is the month of Tishrei. If we don't bless the month of Tishrei, how is it blessed?

We have a teaching of the Baal Shem Tov, handed down by his student, the Maggid of Mezrich, to Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi (the Alter Rebbe). This is how the Alter Rebbe said it, "The seventh month (Tishrei), which is the first month of the months of the year, Hashem Himself blesses on Shabbos Mevarchim, which is the last Shabbos of the month of Elul, and this gives Israel the power to bless the months, eleven times a year. It is written, 'All of you are standing hayom (today),' hayom refers to Rosh Hashanah, which is the Day of judgment, as it is written, ' And it was hayom (the day)...' and the Targum (Yonasan translates), 'and it was the great day of judgment,' And you are standing - existing and standing, means that we are meritorious in the judgment, and on the Shabbos before Rosh Hashanah, which is the last Shabbos of the month of Elul, we read parshas Atem Netzavim (You are standing), and this is the blessing of Hashem... (He blesses us) with a lot of good, to all of Israel, for the entire year."

commentaries explain the verses, "You are standing... To enter a covenant..." That Moshe entered them in to pact of (arvus) responsibility for one another. As our sages say, "All of Israel are responsible for one another."

When there are two explanations on the same words of a verse, they have to be connected somehow. What is the connection between the Baal Shem Tov's explanation and the commentaries'?

Another question. We find in the Talmud, that although Moshe entered them into the covenant of responsibility for one another, in the desert, it didn't actually take effect, until the Jewish people entered the land of Israel. Why did it have to wait until they entered the land?

In order to understand this, we first have to take a look at the idea of arvus, which I translated responsibility, for lack of a better word. It takes many forms, the simple meaning of it in our context, is that we should help each other keep Torah and mitzvahs, and that we can include another Jew, when we say a Brocha. But for clarity sake, we will take the classic case of an areiv, and that is with a loan.

When someone asks another for a loan, often the lender will ask for someone to guarantee the loan, to take responsibility in the case that the borrower will not have the money to repay the loan. In this case, it makes sense that a more affluent person, takes the guarantor position, being the areiv for the loan. In every case arvus, the one who has more is the areiv, the other way around, just doesn't make sense.

When it comes to being Jewish, keeping the Torah and mitzvahs, one would think, that the one who is more involved in Torah and mitzvahs, would be the areiv, for the one who is less involved. But that is not the case, rather, "All of Israel are responsible for one another." What that means, is that every Jew is the more affluent person, compared to every other, in some aspect of Judaism. It is not enough that we keep Judaism the best way we can, but we should try to see to it, that other Jews do so as well. Because they each have a part of Judaism that we don't, and their part is vital to the completeness of Hashem's Torah. In other words, we are not complete, without the inclusion of every one of our Jewish brothers and sisters.

And that is why, we could be included in a Brocha of the most simple and unlettered person, because in some aspect, he is greater.

How does this unity manifest itself?

The Alter Rebbe, when explaining the verse, "All of you standing here today," he says, that all the Jewish people together are, "One complete person." Just as in a person, there is an advantage of the foot over the head, meaning, that there are some things that the head can't do without the foot, therefore, the head is not complete without the foot. The same is true for the Jewish people, even the simplest Jew has an advantage over the greatest, the "heads" of the Jewish people, and they must rely on them to do their part.

To put it in other words, every Jew has a point where he is the "head."

To explain how the unity of the Jewish people manifest itself, the Alter Rebbe brings the verse, "When the heads (the count) of the nation are gathered and the tribes are united." And he explains, "that everyone is gathered together to be united as one." And he explains that "united" means that "Everyone needs each other," and "as one" means "One complete person."

So there are two things working together. We are united and as one.

United means, that there are separate things or people, that come together in unity, to serve a certain purpose. They could have nothing in common, but for the sake of the common goal, they come together and unify. They are individuals with individuality, each is unique, but they unify to attain their goal.

As one means, that they are in essence one, and that is the true underlying reason for their unity. True, they could help each other out by being united, but that isn't the reason for their unity, just the result.

It seems that being "as one," is a loftier idea than just being "united." Why does the Alter Rebbe have to employ both, "united" and "as one"?

We must conclude, that being individual is important as well. In fact, both are extremely necessary, we have to value our individuality, every one of us has something that the others need to be complete, and at the same time, we are at our core, "One complete person."

In actuality, the Alter Rebbe spends much more time discussing the importance of the individual, because to accomplish our mission in this physical world, the unique contribution of every individual is necessary.

Now we could understand why the covenant of arvus, only took effect when they entered the land. Because that is when the actual mission began. In the desert, they were living a completely spiritual life, they were living in the clouds, quite literally. It was only when they entered the land, into the physical world, when the mission began, to transform this lowly physical world into a home for Hashem.

And we will also understand the connection between the Baal Shem Tov's explanation, that we are "meritorious in the judgment," on "hayom," the day of Rosh Hashanah, and the commentaries ', that they entered into a covenant of arvus.

Because it is through our togetherness, both "united," and "as one," when we don't take into account the level of the other, and when we see every Jew as important and necessary. That Hashem will grant us all a happy and sweet year.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Rosh Hashanah And Shofar: Connecting With Hashem's Essence

On the verse, "Seek Hashem when He could be found," the Talmud says, "These are the ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur." 

The words of the Talmud seem to contradict itself. On one hand it says, "between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur," which means that Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are not included. On the other hand, it says, "These are the ten days," which must include Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, because there are only seven days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. 

We must conclude, that there are two different aspects to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. First is their own essential individual identity, what each of those great days are all about. And then there is the teshuva aspect of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, how they are included in the Ten Days of Teshuva. 

And because it says, "between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur," We understand that the holiday's own significance comes first, in other words, first comes the individual aspect of the day, and only after that, comes the aspect of teshuva of the time. 

For this article, I will be discussing mostly about Rosh Hashanah. 

Teshuva is higher than all of the mitzvahs, and because of that, it is able to correct all the blemishes caused by not keeping them. And being that the individual aspect of Rosh Hashanah precedes teshuva, it must be even higher than it. 

What is the individual aspect of Rosh Hashanah? 

The Talmud tells us, that about Rosh Hashanah, Hashem says, "Say before Me (verses of) kingship, in order that you should make Me King over you." The whole concept of mitzvahs doesn't exist before you accept Hashem as King. As our sages say, "(First) accept My sovereignty, and after that accept my decrees." 

In other words, there is something before mitzvahs, higher than mitzvahs, and that is, accepting Hashem's dominion over you. Until you do that, there are no mitzvahs, and if there are no mitzvahs to break, there is nothing to do teshuva for. 

What does "higher" mean? Mitzvahs are Hashem's will, teshuva is higher than mitzvahs, therefore, it can fix the damage that was caused by breaking them. But even though it is higher than mitzvahs, it still has a connection to them, because if not, it could not have an affect on the mitzvahs and correct them. So it is higher than the will of Hashem, but it still has some connection to it. 

When we ask Hashem to be King over us, we are asking for Him Himself, His essence, which is higher than His will, and for that matter, beyond all of existence. 

This is a testament to how great the souls of the Jewish people are, they reach and connect to the essence of Hashem. That is why we are able to generate the will in Him, to want to be King. And when do we connect with His essence? When we connect with our neshamas essence, on Rosh Hashanah, during the Amida, when we say the words, "Be King over the whole world with Your glory." 

To understand this, we first have to understand the role of a king in Judaism. A true king, is not a dictator, nor is he seeking the office or yearning for power. He actually doesn't want to be king. He is someone who everyone realizes, that he is higher and greater, not just greater, but head and shoulders over the rest. We request of him to be our king, because we want to gain from and connect with his greatness. That is why we put so much effort into convincing him to be our king. His most impressive trait is his humility, and especially his humility and self nullification before Hashem. 

Once he accepts, he is totally given over to the welfare of the people, physically and spiritually, and because of his great closeness to Hashem, he has the ability to raise everyone up, closer to Him. Therefore, the Torah gives him the title Nassi, because Nassi is from the word nasso, which means to raise. He has nothing of his own, everything he has is from the people. Even though he is so much above the people, he is one with them, he is totally their's, and they are totally his. 

Every year, on Rosh Hashanah, we ask of Hashem, to once again be our King. He doesn't want to, but we generate a yearning in Him, through our Rosh Hashanah service. By connecting to the essence of our neshamas, we are able to connect to the essence of Hashem, and awaken in Him a yearning to be our King. He accepts, He becomes totally ours and we become totally His. 

In Torah, the name that is given to something, is not just for convenience, rather, it shows us what it is all about. The holiday is called Rosh Hashanah, the head of the year. The head has different aspects to it. First, is its own unique individuality as the head. It is above and in a way, separate from all the other limbs and organs of the body. Second, it is the life force of the limbs and organs. And third, it is what controls all the organs and limbs, even after the life force has been drawn into them. 

The same is with Rosh Hashanah. First, there is the individual aspect of the day, making Hashem our King, which is higher and in a way, above any connection to the days of the year. Second, is the teshuva aspect of Rosh Hashanah, where is still higher than the mitzvahs that we do during the year, but it has something to do with them, just as the head is the life force of the body. And third, is the direct effect of Rosh Hashanah on all the days of the year, because of the resolutions we make with regards to doing mitzvahs and serving Hashem all year round. Just as the head has a direct effect on the limbs and organs of the body. 

About Rosh Hashanah it says, "The mitzvah of the day is with the shofar." That means, that these same ideas, making Hashem our King, teshuva and keeping the mitzvahs, could be found in the mitzvah of shofar. 

The Rambam says in the laws of teshuva, "Even though the sounding of the shofar on Rosh Hashanah is a biblical decree, there is a hint in it, (the sound of the shofar) is as if it is saying, 'wake up sleepers from your slumber... and return with teshuva!'" 

We have to ask: Why is this passage of the Rambam about shofar in the laws of teshuva and not in the laws of shofar? Even though it is talking about teshuva, it is a hint to why we blow the shofar, it would make sense to put it in the laws of shofar. 

Another question. The Talmud says, "Say before Me (verses of) kingship... so that you should make Me king over you... And with what? With the shofar." According to this, the shofar makes Hashem King over us. Why doesn't the Rambam make any mention of it at all? 

According to what we said earlier, it will become clear. Shofar also has the same three aspects. There is the mitzvah aspect of shofar, that the Rambam brings down in the laws of shofar. 

Then there is the teshuva aspect of shofar. Teshuva is higher than mitzvahs, therefore it is only hinted to. In Torah, when there is a hint to something, it means that it is just too high to come down in the concrete, therefore, it is only hinted to us. This hint is higher than the mitzvah of shofar, that is the reason that it is not brought in the laws of shofar, but in the laws of teshuva, which is higher than mitzvahs. It is still somewhat connected to the mitzvah aspect, that is why he says, "Even though the sounding of the shofar... is a biblical decree," meaning, that it is a mitzvah, but he then explains the hint, the teshuva aspect, which is higher than the mitzvah. 

Finally, there is the aspect of shofar that makes Hashem King over us. Since it comes from the essence of our souls, and touches the essence of Hashem, it is infinitely beyond mitzvahs and teshuva, therefore, it isn't even found in the Rambam. 

How amazing are we, that Hashem chose us as His own, and that we can connect with His essence. As the shofar is sounded, take a moment to lose yourself to the essence of your neshama, which will connect you to the essence of Hashem, and ask Him to be your King. He will surely accept and grant you and your loved ones, a happy and sweet year.