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!

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