Friday, August 12, 2011

Shabbos Nachamu: Finding Your Center

The following concepts have been adapted from the Ramchal, the Aish Kodesh and the Ohr G’deliyahu. Feel free to print this out and read it over Shabbos Kodesh, just please not during Tefilos!

This week we leave the period of Bein HaMeitzarim. We are departing from the time of the year that is devoted to mourning the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash. We are entering instead into a period of spiritual and emotional recovery. We begin now to look forward, we raise our hopes once more. We start this process with the heartening words of the Navi. “Nachamu, Nachamu Ami…” – ‘My nation; be comforted, be comforted…’

Chazal, in the Yalkut Shimoni draw an interesting parallel. Why does the Navi tell us ‘Nachamu’ twice? Why is there a double-Lashon? Because a twofold portion of consoling is required for the nation that sinned twice over. The Passuk that laments the destruction bemoans, ‘Cheit Chatah Yerushalayim’ – ‘Jerusalem has sinned a sin.’ Just as they were Chotei B’Kiflayim, just as the erred in the double; so too they will eventually be Misnachamim B’Kiflayim, they will experience a dual sense of comfort. Nachamu and Nachamu…

The concept of the double-sin requires a closer examination.

Our goal in this world is to reveal Elokus, to expose spirituality and godliness in the lowest, most physical realms of existence. We are meant to bring holiness to all aspects of being.

Adam HaRishon, the first man, had tremendously exposed spirituality and miraculously receptive physicality. The Kabalists explain that our experiences of spirituality and physicality are relative. We perceive steak as physical and Yom Kippur as spiritual. But that’s not the peak of our potential. Adam lived in such a way that an experience like Yom Kippur came across to him like steak does to us. If that’s true then we don’t have the proper terminology to relate to the nature of what his spirituality was like. It’s beyond our current comprehension. This puts the entire story of Gan Eden into a different light. It was a totally different quality of existence.

The sin of the Tree of Knowledge shattered all of that. It lowered the universe. It brought everything down a notch. The result of Adam’s sin is the world as we know it. Our job is to restore it. Obviously this is not an easy job.

The challenge has two sides to the coin: On the one hand, Hashem has engineered the universe in such a way that the now Elokus, the Divine Light, has withdrawn itself. It’s pulled back and it’s playing hard to get. Because of its retreat there is a cosmic vacuum created in its absence. That existential hole is the root of our second challenge: the overpowering of Gashmiyus. Physicality is too coarse; it comes across as too insensitive to be a vessel for spirituality. So the prize has distanced itself and roadblocks have gotten themselves in the way. A two-sided challenge.

In parallel to this we have been given a tool that mirrors the state of the universe. The point of that being that if we can restore the balance in the tool it could perhaps set the universe straight as well. By this we mean the dynamic of body and soul. We have this Chelek Elokah MiMa’al, an Expression of Elevated Divine Light that is (on whatever level that we can put it into words) put on a dimmer and then crammed into a body. The status of the body/soul experience matches the inter-galactic state of affairs. The soul is restricted from shining forth its true power and the body’s tactlessness has been intensified. The prize has distanced itself and roadblocks have gotten themselves in the way. Great.

Therefore, every time we get it right, every single time we fulfill a positive commandment we reveal a little bit more of that light in both ourselves and within the universe around us as well. Simultaneously, we deemphasize the weightiness of our physical bodies and make the world a more spiritually receptive place. This is the meaning of the famous Kabalistic concept that the universe is a big person, and each person is a mini-universe.

But what emerges is that when we sin, we drag ourselves as well as the world around us down on those same two levels. We increase the density of the body and we also further restrain, we tighten the collar (so to speak) on our souls. When that happens we cause the further retreat of spirituality and the increased density of physicality.

This is the depth of Cheit Chatah Yerushalayim. This is the meaning of the double-sin. This how the Jewish people were Chotei B’Kiflayim. We messed it up on two calamitous levels.

So how will we be Misnachamim B’Kiflayim? From where does our two-fold comfort shine forth? For that we turn to this week’s Parsha.

We know that the Kriya is Me’orer the Zman. The Torah reading of the week is intrinsically intertwined with the goings-on of the Jewish cycle of the year. The moment in time parallels the content of the scripture. The calendar-related energies flow from the pipes of their affixed Torah readings. That means that the concepts of moving from Galus to Geulah, the vehicle that takes us out of Bein HaMeitzarim must be contained in Parshas Va’Eschanan.

In the very beginning of the Parsha, Moshe Rabbeinu delivers a lengthy oration on the topic of exile and redemption. But interestingly, this historic monologue concludes with a proclamation that has very little to do with topic at hand. Let’s explain.

Says Moshe (this is a very rough topical adaptation), “Unlike me, you will cross the Jordan River and enter into the land. When you get there, take great care to uphold and preserve your relationship with God. For if you forget that covenant, if you become corrupt, if you serve idols and perversely enter yourselves into the realm of all that which is evil in the eyes of the Lord, then you will suffer the consequences. You will perish quickly and you will be expelled from the land.” Sounds like Bein HaMeitzarim so far…

Moshe goes on, “From there, from the contemplative distance of the exile you will long, you will thirst for your God. In distress and pain you will return to Him. And He will listen to you. He is merciful and He will want you back. You will not be destroyed. You will be redeemed.” Beautiful, we’re moving away from Bein HaMeitzarim. The connection between the Moment and the Verse has been found.

But Moshe doesn’t stop: “Look back at what has preceded you: Your God extracted you when you were in Egypt. You looked and acted no different than your oppressors. They served idols and you did as well. Yet He took you out in dramatic and miraculous fashion. And your God revealed Himself to you. You heard His Voice speak directly to you at Sinai. You experienced this and lived. Your relationship with him is unique. Therefore, Atah Hareisa LaDa’as Ki Hashem Hu HaElokim, Ein Od Milvado! You have been shown; you know that God is the source of all of the forces, both spiritual and physical. There is none other than Him!”

This passage does many things to the national psyche. It informs, it cautions and it inspires. But the ending doesn’t fit. We are told that if we do wrong we will be punished and when we repent we will be forgiven. Why is this fact backed up with the memory of the Exodus and Mount Sinai? And why does that have to be topped off with Atah Hareisa?!

Says Rashi, at the moment of Atah Hareisa, at the time of the declaration of God’s Supreme Unity, Hashem was Kara Es Ha’Elyonim V’Kara Es HaTachtonim. ripped open the Elyonim (the upper spheres of existence) and He ripped open the Tachtonim (the lower realms of reality). His presence descended so that it could be revealed through all of the layers of the universe, and He simultaneously busted open physicality to make it receptive to that immense spirituality.

This dynamic of revelation to the world is a manifestation of the preceding reminders of the Exodus and the experience of Sinai. During Yetziyas Mitzrayim, God went against the natural format of the world by forcibly extracting a spiritually jaded Jewish people. We are taught that at the time of the Exodus we were on the brink of spiritual demise. But God, due to His immense love for us turned up the spirituality-dial and rocketed us out of there. He brought every single person to the level of immense prophecy, even though we were not ready to receive it. He elevated us out of the depths. He ripped open the Tachtonim.

At Ma’amad Har Sinai, as the nation stood at the foot of the mountain He did the opposite. He appeared within the fire and smoke and brought Himself (so to speak) down to us. His voice, a voice without physical manifestation, echoed through the world. He took the loftiness of the upper echelons and delivered it to us. He ripped open the Elyonim.

So we have explained how the moment of Atah Hareisa LaDa’as Ki Hashem Hu HaElokim, Ein Od Milvado is backed up by Yitziyas Mitzrayim and Ma’amad Har Sinai. But what does that have to do with the Geulah? Why does this section serve as the punchline to the discourse of exile and redemption?

We have a Mitzvah to remember these two experiences every day. It’s right after Shacharis in your Siddur. The purpose of this is to tap back into those energies. We are told to mentally transport ourselves back to those experiences and nurse from their power and meaning.

Because of Atah Hareisa, because of how God was Kara Es Ha’Elyonim V’Kara Es HaTachtonim we have a certain reality etched into the fiber of our collective being. God, when he ripped open the Tachtonim and revealed the Elyonim, showed us that it is very possible to overcome the two-sided challenge of Avodas Hashem. When He took us out from Egypt we were shown that it is within the realms our divine empowerment to elevate the physicality. We can come out. When we came down to us at Sinai He gave us the power to control spirituality. He showed us that we can direct the heavens towards us down here. We can bridge the gap. We can raise earth toward the skies and we can bring heaven down to us as well.

This knowledge, the awareness that it is part of our very being to over come this two sided struggle is itself the double-portion of condolence that we need as we leave the twice-paining stage of Cheit Chatah Yerushalayim. When He was Kara Es Ha’Elyonim, Hashem was saying Nachamu, and when He was Kara Es HaTachtonim He was saying Nachamu again…

We can, we shall and it is Mamesh our destiny to overcome. In our metaphysical DNA is a gene of spiritual-superiority. The Beis Hamikdash raised man towards God, and made God an attainable experience for man. In times without the Beis HaMikdash it is incumbent upon every individual to tap into the deepest resources of inspiration and create that connection and restore that balance. We can be Korei the Elyonim, Nachamu. We can be Korei the Tachtonim, Nachamu.

This brings us to the final double-Lashon. At the end of Eicha, Am Yisrael says, “Hashiveinu Hashem Eilecha V’Nashuva, Chadeish Yameinu K’Kedem.” Return us and we shall return. Help us tap into both levels of Nachamu. Help us restore the balance. Help bring us back to Kedem. The way it used to be. Kedem means B’Gan Eden MiKedem - Back to the Garden of Eden, back to the sublime state of pre-sin universe. HaKadosh Baruch Hu should help us get there.

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