Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Shabbos Mevarichim Cheshvan/Bereishis: The Mad Grab

The beginning of Parshas Bereishis is tremendously exciting. The Midrash tells us that Hashem was never so happy as He was when He decided to create the world. The word Beireshis, the first word of the Torah beings with the letter Beis. Chazal tell us that Hashem decided to start the Torah (and therefore creation as a whole) with the letter Beis because Beis is the letter of Bracha which means blessing, and God wanted to kick things off with Bracha.

But from that point and on everything goes downhill. The second Passuk speaks of the abyssal and dark state of the universe and Chazal tell us that the four descriptions of emptiness of the universe are really references to the four exiles of the Jewish people. Such a depressing topic – in the second verse!

Everything goes wrong. Chazal tell us that the lower waters fought with the higher waters. The Sun and Moon get into a fight. The Trees rebel. Adam HaRishon, the first man – with limitless potential - he sins. And after he does Teshuva, and brings Hevel into the world (who had the soul of Moshiach Tzidkeinu!) Kayin comes along and kills him! We see the first Avodah Zarah, the first war-lord. Adam is cursed. Chava is Cursed. The Snake is cursed. The Land is cursed. Nothing goes right.

But at the very end of the Parsha things take a small up-turn. “V’Noach Matza Chein B’Einei Hashem.” But Noach found favor in the Eyes of Hashem.

Rabbi Sitorsky offers the following explanation of the series of events in the Parsha. Bereishis is the first Parsha, it contains within it, as the Ramban tells us, a map for all of history, but it also sheds light on the life of every person from year to year.

We start the year off with a bang. Elul. I’m doing Teshuva. Rosh HaShana, I’m flying, I’m close to Hashem – things are amazing. Aseres Yimei Teshuva, I’m doing even better. Yom Kippur, I’m Mamesh in Heaven. Succos, I’m sitting in Emunah, Chag Ha’Asif, bringing it all home. All of this is that excited Beis that we saw the Torah start with.

But the moment that comes to a close, we read Parshas Bereishis, and the Yetzer HaRa attacks. He says, “Your accomplishments? Their fake. You were just caught up in the moment. And let’s be honest, with a few days you’ll be right back at your old Aveiros anyway. So do me a favor, get over yourself – quickly if possible – so that we can get back to business as usual. Cheshvan is here and there are no special Mitzvos to be done, let’s see how high and holy you really are.”

The Yetzer Hara deceives us with his specially crafted tactic to make us lose what we’ve gained in these last two months. He even rubs it in when we slip in the slightest, “AH! See?! I got you.” He takes all of our built up excitement, all of our Beis, makes us slip-up a little bit, and leaves with no escape route as we enter into Cheshvan, eventually making the year a lot less than it could have been.

But Bereishis doesn’t end with the same negative tone that carried through for most of the Parsha. It ends with a positive hope for things to come. “ “V’Noach Matza Chein B’Einei Hashem.” But Noach found favor in the Eyes of Hashem.

Rabbi Sitorsky points out that the numerical values of both Noach and Chein are fifty-eight. And what is fifty-eight? The total sum of days in the months Elul and Tishrei.

What is Hashem saying to us with this short message? He’s says, “Don’t let the Yeter HaRa fool you. It’s true, even through you started off flying, you may mess up, the rest of the year may not go as planned. But that doesn’t mean that the accomplishments you reached in Elul and Tishrei were fake. I adore your efforts. I love the work that you put in. You’re gold. Your fifty-eight days (Noach) have found favor in my eyes (Chein). And that energy is right here waiting for you.

For this reason Hashem is closing off these Days of Awe with Shabbos Mevarchim Cheshvan - and it comes in with an important message: Even though things might not go the way you planned, know that your previous accomplishments don’t just go away. That treasury of empowerment is always available as long as you’re willing to believe it is there, and you are strong enough to bring yourself there.

Perhaps we can take this a step further by giving a more detailed analysis of the month we are entering.

We know that each of the Twelve Tribes is connected to a specific month of the year. Cheshvan, the Eight Month, the Chodesh HaShemini is connected to the tribe of Menasheh (Shmoneh, which means ‘eight’ is comprised of the same letters as Menasheh.) When traveling in the desert on the way to Israel, each Tribe traveled under a banner, which on some level captured the essence of that tribe. Menasheh traveled under the Wild Ox. Why the Wild Ox specifically? Chazal tells us it is because the Wild Ox has beautiful horns that parallel the beautiful and valiant actions of Gidon, a decendant of the tribe of Menasheh, who would eventually save the Jewish people from the hands of Midyan.

The story of Gidon centers around a very interesting nuance that sets it aside from all the other stories in Sefer Shoftim. The usual format is as follows: Jews sin, oppressors come and begin killing, the Shofet stands up and arouses the people to Teshuva and war, they kill the enemy, all is well.

By Gidon things are different. While it is true that the people sin and he, the Shofet takes control to save the day, the enemy wasn’t coming to kill the Jews. As described by the verses, the people of Midyan did not come to kill the people – they, with the help of Amalek came to impoverish them. The verses describe how they ruined the crops and destroyed the fields. For seven years that took all that Am Yisrael grew, and prevented them from reaping the benefits.

Gidon stands up and says, “No way. I’m not going to tolerate this. When a Jew works, when he puts in the effort, no force is worthy to take that away.” So he takes the fight to Midyan and Amalek and ensures that Am Yisrael can bring home the fruit of their labors.

The connection is beautiful. What is growing a field? Both physically and metaphorically, the field is where effort becomes tangible. The work put into a field translates very legitimately into something earned. This is the months of Elul and Tishrei. We put in all of this work, we try to cram in as much growth as possible – and we really do accomplish a lot. But the Yetzer HaRa, or the Snake, or Kayin or Midyan, or Amalek – call it what you like – comes and tries to take those accomplishments away. To take all of that excitement and not let it become internalized. They come right after Succos - Chag Ha’Asif, the festival where we gather in the produce – and they try to ruin the crop. They try to convince you that your accomplishments aren’t worth anything.

But comes Gidon, the ultimate expression on Menasheh, the spiritual director of Cheshvan and says “V’Noach Matza Chein B’Einei Hashem.” As we go into a month that lies open for the taking we can go in with our earnings robbed, or we can internalize the message of Bereishis and proudly enter into Cheshvan carrying what is truly ours. What is yours is yours, and no force should be allowed to take it away from you.

The year may not go as well as you want it. So what. Hashem is telling us that even if that happens, there is a reservoir of inspiration so deep, and so accessible, if only you wish to tap into it.

We should all be Zoche to such an outlook. To truly understand that my accomplishments in the last two months are mine if I want them is the understanding that will empower me to make the most of the months to come. If I can truly internalize the gains of Elul and Tishrei as we go into Cheshvan then I have with me all the empowerment that I need to make this the best year ever. We all can do this, and if we do there is no doubt we will live lives of Simcha and meaning, moving closer to HaKadosh Baruch Hu and ultimately the Geulah!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Yom Kippur: Hit Rewind

As Yom Kippur is upon us, Teshuva - our ability to return to God – becomes a timely topic. Hopefully, when we delve into the words of Chazal we will discover some beautiful insights into the profound power of Teshuva.

There is a perplexing Gemara that appears both in the tractates of Nedarim and Pesachim. The Gemara there says that there is a list of several things that were produced before the universe was created. On that list is Teshuva.

Teshuva Kadma L’Olam. Teshuva - the capacity to overcome sin and bridge the gap with Hashem – to improve, develop and grow - was created before the stage of history was set. Let’s offer a few possible understandings to this puzzling comment of the Sages.

Rav Shmuel Tal Shlit’a in his Sefer Tal Chaim explains the following: Universal history is compared to river that flows with its dynamic changes in current and its twists and its turns. If the timeline of reality is compared to a river, then Teshuva - which is created before all of that, exists within the ‘source’ of that river. Any rock that is placed in the source of a river will cause whirls and currents that impact the river’s entire passage. So too, Teshuva’s influences permeates the course of history. Thus a person who engages in Teshuva harmonizes with that flow.

How do we see Teshuva’s influence seep into the very make-up of the world? At nearly every stage of creation we see either in explicit verses, or in the words of Chazal that Hashem carried out a certain creative act, and then decided that it wasn’t good enough. A few examples: The Midrash in Bereishis says that Hashem was “Boreh Olamos U’Machrivam”, He created a series of universes and destroyed them saying, ‘These are not pleasing to Me.’ until He created our universe world and let it remain by saying, ‘This one is pleasing to Me.’

What, God couldn’t get it right the first time?

Another Midrash. “B’Tchila Ala B’Machshava B’Midas HaDin”, HaKadosh Baruch Hu originally designed the world to run with strict, unforgiving principles – but He saw that the world could not be upheld under such standards. So what did He do? “Shiteif Ima Midas HaRachamim” He added Principles of Mercy to the mix.

Are we saying that God didn’t foresee the outcomes of His own decisions? He needed a change of plans?

When God created light the Passuk tells us that He dived between the light and the dark to make the concepts of night and day. Rashi tells us there that God hid away the original light because He saw that the wicked would abuse it.

Why create it and then hide it? Just start with it in its proper place!

There are more examples, but the theme is clear: Hashem intentionally created the world with lacks and imperfections in order to encode into the very fabric of reality a yearning for improvement.

When we do Teshuva, when we seek to improve ourselves, we synchronize our very being with the rhythm of creation.

Not only do we learn from Teshuva Kadma L’Olam that Teshuva is the propelling force of history, but we also learn something about Teshuva itself. Reb Yehoshua Skydel Shlit’a raises a beautiful point: Anything created before the world signifies that the world is meaningless without that thing.

What does this mean in relationship to Teshuva Kadma L’Olam? The answer is possibly this: Hashem created the world with the end goal in mind. And what is the end goal? BaYom HaHu Yihiyeh Hashem Echad U’Shemo Echad - the day where God’s glory will blatantly permeate all things, where the entire universe will openly be in-tune with Hashem’s Ratzon.

We see numerous sources in Chazal that certain select individuals didn’t sin in their lifetimes. We see from the fact that our Sages point out the few specials souls who did not mess up that everyone else does. We are humans, and by nature we are not perfect, therefore we make mistakes.

But now that we do make mistakes, if had no way of fixing them the world would never be able to reach the aforementioned state of flawlessness due to the piled up sins! How could the world ever reach perfection if things could only get worse?

Thus Teshuva needs to be built in as a prerequisite for creation to ever manifest positively. Teshuva Kadma L’Olam.

So now we understand that God preempted the world with Teshuva in order to direct the intrinsic shortcomings of creation towards change for the better, and let it achieve its purpose. But how does Teshuva being created before the world empower me on a practical level to overcome my personal shortcomings?

The great Maharal in his explanation on our Gemara gives the following answer. It’s a matter of simple logic that actions aren’t historically reversible. When I do something, it is done. Cause-and-Effect dictates that my deeds register on the universe in an irrevocable way.

This concept trickles down into my day-to-day. When I do something; anything really, it changes the course of events in my life. Any choice I make is the catalyst to the following set of circumstances that I will find myself in. Thus, when I; God forbid, commit a sin, my whole life moves forward with that sin as part of the background. One aspect of what Teshuva tries to accomplish is to ‘rewind’ my life, to move backwards to the original state of purity that I had before from before I did that Aveira and, as it were, start my life again from that point.

Therefore says the Maharal, every person who engages in Teshuva needs to see himself as he was before the sin was done and tap into that inner purity. ‘I felt so much close to Hashem, so much more whole before I did X.’ For in this realm of reality the sin is done, and unless you can psychologically wind back to before it was done, the association of the Aveira will continue to way you down.

For this reason we say Teshuva Kadma L’Olam - because the fresh start that I undergo has to be an entirely clean slate. And such purity exists before history, before anything in my personal history went wrong. Way back then there was a simple purity. The ability to rectify my life preceded my choice to wreck it.

How often do I find myself totally caught up in the shortcomings of my lifestyle, so absorbed in my mistakes that seemingly, there is no possible way to rise above them. “These are my friends, this is my club, this is my favorite drink, this my favorite movie – These are my Aveiros, and it’s just what I do!”

The physical reality says, ‘You’re right – this is your life, and there is no escaping it.’ Teshuva comes and says, ‘I’m one notch higher that the physical reality. Tap into my power, and anything is possible.

I’m only stuck with my mistakes inasmuch as I’m rooted in this world, but when I choose to rise above this world, when I chose to access a power that precedes the world, then I am empowered to truly be able to leave my mistakes behind and begin to grow again.

“Hashem, I’m so imperfect. I make mistakes on every level of my life. A fair assessment of my day-to-day makes me realize that I’m lacking in every area. Do I pray as well as I can? When I make Brachos, do I mean it? I really treat everyone as with the respect they deserve? I devote enough serious time to Torah study? I really go through with life with an active Emunah? Am I really I doing as well as I can? No, I’m not. But it doesn’t have to be this way. I know how good it feels to be close to you. I remember how whole I felt when I was living in sync with your Ratzon. I know that life was better when I lived with a Torah-focus. Please. I’m begging you, Aba, get me out of this. Help me rise above all of these inadequacies, empowered to overcome my weaknesses. Give me the strength to break free of my Aveiros, because their chains are so constricting. Hashem, I can’t do this by myself.

We’ve analyzed why Hashem made Teshuva first. We’ve seen how that makes it the driving force of history, and we’ve discussed how its primordial nature is the root of its power. Perhaps we can end by quoting the beautiful language of Rav Kook (Oros HaTeshuva,6:2) who encapsulates all of these ideas with sheer elegance:

Teshuva is constantly engrained in the heart of man. Even during the moment of sin itself, the power Teshuva is contained in his spirit. And through its presence it sends forth its influence, a power only revealed when he comes to call out for Teshuva. In the very depth of reality, in the vivacity of space and time – Teshuva is rooted for it was created before the world. Even before the sin, the ability to overcome has already been prepared. Therefore nothing in this world is guaranteed like Teshuva is, and in the end all things will come under its influence and will be perfected through it, to come close, once again, to the will of the Creator.

May we all experience the holiest Yom Kippur ever.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Rosh HaShana: Apple+Honey, Way deeper than you thought

There is a famous practice to eat Simanim on Rosh HaShana - we take foods of significance, find a relevant play-on-words to the name of the food or how the food looks, and just before we eat them we beseech Hashem to send us only good things in the coming year.

It’s an age-old practice. We’ve been raised since we were little children to sing, “Dip the apple in the honey, make a Bracha loud and clear - A Shana Tova U’Mesuka, have a good and sweet new year!” Dip, eat, (contemplate) and rejoice. This seemingly simple custom contains within it a deep and beautiful significance. Let’s explore.

We know that the apple-honey-dip is not the only ‘Siman’ that we eat on the night of Rosh HaShana. Fish heads, pomegranates, black-eyed-peas, leeks and others are all make predictable appearances on Jewish tables around the world. But there is one characteristic that sets the apple and honey apart. In Shulchan Aruch, all of the relevancies of the Simanim are explicitly described. Pomegranates, for example have a tremendous amount of seeds – the whole inside is jam-packed with them! On this we request from Hashem that He increases our merits like the seeds of a pomegranate. On the fish or goat head (goat-heads are not for the faint-of-heart) we request that God make us heads – significant and thoughtful, and not like tails – brainless followers. The list goes on.

On the apple dipped in honey, like we mentioned before, we ask Hashem for a Shana Tova U’Mesuka - a good and sweet new year. True, apple and honey are a sweet combination. But cotton-candy is sweet too! Strawberries are very sweet. There are endless possibilities, so why specifically this combination? It’s got to be an apple and it’s got to be honey… why? A second question: what’s with the language of a Shana Tova U’Mesuka - a good and sweet new year. We can ask for good or we can ask for sweet. We can split it up into two Simanim! All the other Simanim are requested one at a time! We can ask for ‘good’ on either the apple or honey and for ‘sweet’ on the other! But we need to ask for both together, and we specifically need to dip the apple in the honey, why?

To crunch down the questions: Why specifically apple and honey if the request can be tied to many foods? Why must we specifically bring these two together by dipping one in the other? And why the double-layered request?

Reb Tzadok HaKohen from Lublin answers our questions with a fascinating approach based on the passuk in Tehilim (97:11): “Or Zarua La’Tzadik, U’L’Yishrei Lev Simcha.” ‘Light is to be grown for the righteous and those who are straight of heart will be happy.’ Says Reb Tzadok, this verse contains all of our answers.

The Passuk seems to describe two levels, the Tzadik and the Yishrei Lev, the righteous and the straight of heart. What’s the difference? A second question: The righteous get ‘Light’ and the straight of heart are connected to joy. Why is each reward fitting to each category it is mentioned with?

Let’s begin by addressing the definitions of the two categories listed. Says Reb Tzadok, the first category, the Tzadik does all the right things all the time and none of the wrong things any of the time. On the level of straight-up actions, his checklist is perfect. This doesn’t mean that he’s always enjoying himself, it just means that in the realm of Ma’aseh - deed, he gets straight A’s.

But then there is the second, higher level of Yishrei Lev - the straight of heart. These unique individuals posses all of the positive qualities of the Tzadik but with an important added bonus: the heart. True, they do all the correct things, but even more than that – they love every second of it! They are constantly in the ‘zone’. Always ‘feeling it.’ Those who are “Yashar Lev” – straight of heart – have their heart penetrate straight through everything they do.

So why does the Tzadik get ‘Light’ as a reward? To understand this we need to look back to Bereishis when light was created. The Passuk says, “Vayar Elokim Es HaOr Ki Tov.” ‘And God saw that the light was Tov - Good.’ Rashi says there that God took this original light and hid it away for the righteous to benefit from in the future. This isn’t just light that brightens the physical – this is light that illuminates the soul. This is the radiance of closeness to Hashem. This is the warmth of the World-to-Come. This is the Or HaGanuz - the hidden light: the light for Tzadikim.

There is no doubt that the Tzadik that we described above is worthy to receive from and partake in this light. He does all the right things, and therefore gets the reward he deserves.

But the Yishrei Lev? They not only get the light, but they even enjoy this world on a totally different level. Their world has an added Simcha joy, happiness, wholeness. Why? Because they don’t just do the right actions, they are ecstatic about their Avodas Hashem! Their checklist is complete in the realm of deed, and they get the additional benefit of getting a Geshmak - a spiritual high, an added sweetness in life.

Let’s take the ideas of Tzadik and Yishrei Lev, the concepts of Or and Simcha, and momentarily put them aside so that we can address another issue before tying everything together at the end. Why specifically apple and honey?

The Gemara in Shabbos tells us that Am Yisrael is like an apple tree. Chazal tell us that an apple tree is unique among all trees in that the fruit precedes the leaves. In most cases leaves come as harbingers of fruits that are soon coming. But the apple tree shoots forth its produce before the leaves arrive and announce the arrival of the fruit. This is parallel to how the Jews at Mount Sinai said “Na’aseh - We shall do” before they said “Nishma - We shall listen.” Usually one listens and contemplates before agreeing to action, this listening is comparable to the leaves of the tree. But the Jews shot forth the fruit first – the committed themselves to action without any hesitation.

Thus Reb Tzadok connects the level of Tzadik to the concept of apple. Just like an apple signifies a firm dedication to action at all costs, so too a Tzadik is firmly rooted in perect action.

And honey? Honey is Scripture’s paradigmatic example of sweetness. Says the Passuk in Shoftim, ‘Mah Masok Mi’Dvash? - What is sweeter than honey?’ But what is sweetness really? Sweetness implies that the food is not just physically going down my throat, but I’m getting that extra Geshmak, an added bonus just to make things more exciting.

And Reb Tzadok connects this concept of Dvash to the level of Yishrei Lev. Just like honey gives an extra spike of excitement, so too the Yishrei Lev are living with that extra enthusiasm in their Avodas Hashem!

For this reason we dip the apple into the honey. And for this reason we ask Hashem for a Good and Sweet new year. Because at the end of the day we want both levels. We want to connect the depth of the Apple to the depth of the Honey. We want to do all the right things and we also want to be totally thrilled by it. We want to live lives where we are Tzadikim - lives of Or, lives of Tov and bring it into our hearts, to be Yishrei Lev, to live with excitement, with that added Simcha, that extra Mesikus - the sweetness.

We don’t just ask Hashem for a Shana Tova - a year of Tov, we ask to bind that good to the Misikus. We don’t just want apples; we want to connect them to the honey. A Shana Tova and Mesuka. Apple in the honey. To take the Or Zarua La’Tzadik and bring it into the U’L’Yishrei Lev Simcha. Gevalt.

B’Ezras Hashem, as we start the new year, let’s pray that Hashem gives us the strength to serve Him with joy with excitement and sweetness. That we be empowered to do all the Mitzvos all the time, and do them with a Geshmak. We need to ask Hashem to energize us so that our Avodas Hashem becomes the most exciting thing in our lives.

If we can do this, there is no doubt that we will live lives of meaning (U’L’Yishrei Lev) happiness, moving closer to the Creator and ultimately the redemption!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Nitzavim/Rosh Hashana: Back to Basics

This week we read Nitzavim, the Parsha that lies on the brink of the new year. With this in mind, let’s begin to analyze.

The last two week’s of Torah-reading very much sum up the life of a Jew: Ki Seitzei and Ki Savo: Going and Coming – moving around. These are two Parshios that deal with many of the surrounding situations and lots of possible contexts in which a Jew can find himself. We see times of curse, times of distance from God, situations of exile. We also read about the diametric opposite: high times of national and personal redemption, moments of closeness to God and blessing. We learned the laws of extreme situations. Laws of cross-dressing (and other moral deviancies), kidnapping, and even Ben Sorer U’Moreh - the wayward son who is put to death. We learned about day-in-day-out honest business dealings, ritual taxations and the community’s responsibilities of charity. Going and coming. These Parshios deal – even in their very titles – with traveling the path of life.

But this week is drastically different. In contrast to ‘going’ and ‘coming’, this week is called Nitzavim - standing - upright and still. We can reasonably assume that with such a different name – the content would differ as well. And as we look through the Psukim, this seems to be the case. In stark contrast to the ‘cramming-it-all-in’ feeling of the last two weeks, this week we focus on one theme - Teshuva. Moshe lays down the law.

In short, this is what Moshe tells the people, ‘After everything. At the end of the day. Wherever it is that life takes you – when it’s all said and done, you’re going to do Teshuva. On both the national and personal level – you will rectify your relationships with God. Take the Torah, learn it, and live by it. Because there are only two teams: team ‘Life’ and team ‘Death’. Life is good. Death is bad. Choose ‘Life’.

The Sfas Emes gives us a tremendous insight. Life is busy. Life throws curve-balls at us. It’s confusing, and sometimes it’s hard to get an honest account as to where we’re holding. This is the life of a Jew in the context of Ki Seitze and Ki Savo, the life of Going and Coming, the life of moving around. But when the year comes to an end – and we want to rectify our mistakes, it needs to be done from a place of Nitzavim, standing still.

What does this mean? We see in scripture that Angels are sometimes called Omdim - ‘Those Who Stand.’ Obviously, as opposed to something that is moving, something that is standing remains in a static situation. This is an Angel. An angel doesn’t really progress or digress in its service of God. Its situation is glued in place and it rigorously holds its position. Angels - Omdim - stand firm in their Avodas Hashem.

There is a place just like this in the heart of every Jew. There is a place of untouchable purity. There is an inner-Tzadik, a holy point that remains on its pedestal regardless of the exterior situation. This is a Jew’s private relationship to the concept of Omdim - or in our case, Nitzavim. Standing still. And it is a focus on the fixed meta-purity that hovers above all the twists and turns of ‘Going’ and ‘Coming’ – this is the key to Teshuva.

There are lots of laws pertaining to ‘Going’ and ‘Coming’. But in regards to Teshuva the focus needs to be on standing still, and the reaching deep down into that never-changing place inside of me that is totally pure. And when I realize that such a place in me exists then the hardest task presents itself: associating with it. It’s hard for me to believe that even with all of my past mistakes there is a part of me that nevertheless remains pure and holy – but it’s there, and my relationship it is the crux of my path of Teshuva. The more I relate to that inner purity which lays dormant within me, automatically my sins will simply fall away. I’ll naturally disassociate from them because my identity has evolved to something much higher.

Thus Teshuva is a journey much more sophisticated than simply rectifying actions. Defining Teshuva as ‘Repentance’ is inaccurate. The word Teshuva means ‘Returning.’ What are we returning to? We are returning to who we really are in the truest sense. We return to the purity that is built into our souls, the purity that is not effected by the ‘Going’s and ‘Coming’s of life. When I stumble fall on life’s path of Ki Seitze and Ki Savo - the Teshuva I need to do is accomplished by tapping into my inner Nitzavim. No matter what life throws my way, the solution is found in the part of me that is resolute, unbending and unchanged. The purity in that place will always be the tool to get me over the mistakes of my past.

Perhaps we can connect this to why we are so stirred up, so moved to Teshuva by the sound of the Shofar. Speech is its essence is fancy exhaling. When I breathe out – when I release a Kol - a raw voice, and form it with my tongue and lips, I produce words, sentences and eventually complex concepts. But the Kol by itself can get lost in all of the modifications that our mouths perform.

The Shofar bypasses all of that. The Shofar is a tool that booms forth with pure Kol. Simply breathing. Breathing without overly-complicated syllables and pronunciations. It would seem clear that the pure, unmodified blast of the Shofar penetrates directly to the place of untouchable, unmovable purity in the soul. And when such a sound resonates to the deepest parts of us, it awakens us to associate, to return and connect to the purity we are granted just because we are Jews.

Let’s offer another possible layer: We know that the most essential definition of any given word is found in its first appearance in the Torah. So then what is the deeper meaning of the Kol - the ‘voice’ of the Shofar?

The answer is found way back in Parshas Bereishis. After Adam HaRishon sins with the Tree of Knowledge he attempts to hide from his mistake. But what can he not escape from? ‘’VaYishmu Es Kol Hashem Elokim Mis’halech BaGan” Adam and Eve heard the Kol - the voice of Hashem manifesting the Garden. And what did Hashem say? “AYEKAH?! - Adam! My precious creation! Where’d you go?”

Perhaps we can offer the following possible interpretation. If one is asked ‘Where are you?’ then there is one given piece of information: The person being called is not where he/she is expected or supposed to be. Adam HaRishon was created in a state of utmost purity – the perfect example of living in a state of connectedness to his inner Nitzavim. Had he maintained his connection to his spiritual level – it would have been quite simple to ‘find’ him. But after the sin, his spiritual level shifted away from the point he should have been ‘standing’ in, prompting Hashem to ask Adam, ‘Why are you not at the point which you belong?’

This ‘Kol’ of what Hashem cried out to Adam is exactly what we hear with the Shofar-blasts. The cry of the Shofar is begging of us, “Ayekah!?” Why are we not connected to the highest place in ourselves?

But this is not the only way that Hashem get’s us to relate to our inner Tzadik. The Sfas Emes in his writings on Rosh HaShana gives us even more food for thought. Let’s take things a step deeper.

Rosh HaShana is essentially a day of judgment. Every creature passes before its Creator and an accounting is determined. By this description Rosh HaShana is a day of fear, a day of power and a day of harshness.

But God, in His kindness, added a factor. We don’t merely tremble on this day – we celebrate. We turn it into a Yom Tov - a holiday. Asks the Chidushei HaRim, what is the meaning Yom Tov? Literally it means ‘A Good Day’ but he offers a more mystical approach. The term Tov is often a reference to the Ohr HaGanuz - the hidden light for the Tzadikim in the future. How do we know this to be true? Because the first time we see the term ‘Tov’ in the Torah is mentioned in connection to the creation of light. ‘And God saw Es HaOr Ki Tov - the Light, and that it was good.’ The commentators say that this light is the light of basking in closeness to Hashem. And such a light was hidden away, reserved to be experienced by the righteous in the future.

But every Yom Tov, a miniature revelation of this Light comes into the world – hence the Tov in the name. The Passuk says ‘Or Zarua LaTzadik’ – the Light is reaped by the righteous. But we also know, ‘V’Amech Kulam Tzadikim’ The Jewish people all have an inner-Tzadik. And on Yom Tov that inner place of Omdim and Nitzavim is accessible so that we can readily accept the Or HaGanuz present on that day.

This is the significance of Rosh HaShana being transformed from a day of only judgment into a day which is a Yom Tov. In doing so, Hashem makes it that much easier for us to do Teshuva in the true sense of the word (the way we described above). On Yom Tov, Hashem, in His kindness opens us up to be more in touch with that point of undamaged purity so that we can receive the Or HaGanuz that comes into the world. And when that happens, it is automatically easier to associate with that part of us, and thereby to do Teshuva! Thus on a day where our actions are scrutinized, Hashem gives us one more chance to reach that point of our inner Nitzavim - the place of intrinsic holiness and with that, dispose of our sins. Amazing.

This is really a tremendous piece of inspiration in regards to preparing for the new year. True Teshuva is not as far away as I may think. Teshuva is far loftier than a scavenger hunt through my past deeds, looking for little mess-ups to frectify. Teshuva is a journey of self discovery and spiritual transcendence. An uplifting experience that takes me back to a higher, natural state of being. And as we stand on the edge of this exciting day, we need to take this message of Nitzavim with us and internalize it.

Simply knowing that a part of me (no matter how little I sense it) is forever pure is enough of an motivation to drive me to access it and to associate with it. And it is when I connect to that part of myself that I can begin to achieve a higher state of self-worth and embark on a journey of truly powerful Teshuva. This is a message that is tremendously important during this last week of the year as we prepare to enter into Rosh HaShana.

B’Ezras Hashem we should be Zoche to attain such a mind-state. Because it is only when we search to get in touch with the deepest, holiest parts of ourselves that it becomes possible to progress in Avodas Hashem. If we can do this there is no doubt that we will be meritorious in judgment, living lives of fulfillment and happiness, moving closer to the Creator and ultimately the redemption!