Friday, October 14, 2011

Sucos: Prophetic Hydration and Self Awareness

The following is based on content from the Sfas Emes, as it was elaborated and elucidated through discussion with Moshe Chayim Eade, Shlit’a. Feel free to print out this essay and enjoy it over Chag, just please not during Tefilos!

As we are taught, all Korbanos (sacrifices) were accompanied with the pouring of a wine libation on the Mizbeach; the altar. On Sucos, the practice of Nisuch HaMayim accompanied the wine.  This means that not only was wine poured; rather wine and water together were brought with the Korban.

The Gemara goes on at great length to describe the Simchas Beis HaSho’eiva, the intense festivities that came with Nisuch HaMayim. The holy priests would travel out of the temple and down to the Mei HaShiloach, a spring that brought forth a constant flow of fresh waters from the inner core of subterranean Yerushalayim. The Rishonim explain that this is water directly from the Six Days of Creation. This is vintage. Throwback. This was Mayim Chayim – water that’s Mamesh alive.

This water was brought up to the Beis HaMikdash with grand fanfare. Trumpets and lyres, song and dance set the tone. There was palpable electricity buzzing in the air. The sages, the precious saints of the Yerushalayim of yesteryear would rejoice and juggle torches.

It was truly a sight to behold. As the Gemara tells us, “He who has not seen the rejoicing of the Simchas Beis HaSho’eiva has not seen Simcha in his life.” And not only that, but Chazal also say, “Why is it called the Simchas Beis HaSho’eiva, the Rejoicing of the House of Drawing’? Because it was from there that they would draw Ruach HaKodesh, Divine Inspiration.” In the same way that water was drawn from the source, so too was Ruach HaKodesh being drawn down from lofty spiritual planes.

These are truly beautiful concepts. But we still fail to understand how or why. What’s so exciting the Simchas Beis HaSho’eiva? Why is it the truest kind of joy? And why does the Simchas Beis HaSho’eiva create a situation where Ruach HaKodesh can be drawn forth into a person’s heart?

The Sfas Emes explains that the connection between the Simchas Beis HaSho’eiva  and the receiving of Ruach HaKodesh is that just like a bucket is the vessel that draws forth and contains water, so too Simcha, true joy is the vessel used to draw forth Divine Inspiration. Thus, in the exceedingly joyous atmosphere of the Simchas Beis HaSho’eiva, Ruach HaKodeh becomes a possibility. And this makes a whole lot of sense in light of Chazal’s comment that the Divine Presence, the Shechinah, only rests in a place of Simcha.

He goes on to say that this is the Simcha of the verse in Bereishis, ‘VaYipach B’Apav Nishmas Chayim’ – and God blew into man’s nostrils a Breath of Life. This was the moment where the soul – the breath of God – entered into man and animated him. It is the source; the big-bang so-to-speak of the human experience. 

But we don’t understand what this means. What is the Simcha of VaYipach B’Apav Nishmas Chayim? And how is that Simcha synonymous with the joy of the Simchas Beis HaSho’eiva?

Well, to answer this question we need to better understand what is true Simcha. In the most basic sense it is happiness. But that tells us very little. The warmest sense of happiness, the type of happiness that satisfies the deepest place in our psyche is the happiness that stems from the security of self-awareness and self-knowledge. A man who walks into a business meeting with an air of preparedness completely diffuses the otherwise tense situation. He has his plan; he’s cool, calm, collected and organized. This inner security and harmony is the most serene feeling possible.

And what is happening in the verse of VaYipach B’Apav Nishmas Chayim? We are learning that source of human life is a Divine Breath. We are attaining the most basic and essential level of self-awareness. “I’m Mamesh Divine.” We are learning the true essence and nature of our identity. And thus, if the deepest and most satisfying form of happiness emerges from self-discovery, then being able to identify with my inner, divine, true self is the utmost gratification achievable.

Now we know that Simcha comes out of self-awareness. True self-knowledge brings me to realize that my most deeply rooted essence is a Divine Breath which is really an expression of Godliness. It is what the Sfarim call the Chelek Eloka MiMa’al, the Segment of Elevated Godliness. Therefore, my self-awareness is essentially an encounter with HaKadosh Baruch Hu! The real me is coming from, stemming from Him. And after all, what is Ruach HaKodesh? Ruach HaKodesh is the realization and acceptance of a Divine Revelation. Therefore, self-discovery and personal awareness as a manifestation of the Divine is in of itself a form of Ruach HaKodesh.

We are trained to think that Divine Inspiration is way out there. That one needs to meditate on foreign and esoteric concepts in order to attain spirituality and interface with Godliness. But we now see that this is not true.

We now understand that the simple recognition of our intrinsic Godliness creates the true joy of self-awareness and that is a real and attainable form of Ruach HaKodesh.

But what does that have to do with the theme of the Simchas Beis HaSho’eiva? Seemingly this relevant all year-round! Why do we need the Simchas Beis HaSho’eiva to teach us that the Simcha of self-awareness is Ruach HaKodesh?

Let’s Mamesh go into the heart of our emotions…

What is disappointment? Disappointment is the difference between my original expectations and the current reality. The greater the gap, the deeper the disappointment.

As we said, the Simchas Beis HaSho’eiva celebrates the Nisuch HaMayim. And what is so exciting? It’s the resolution of disappointment. Why? In the beginning of Creation, even before there was light there was water. V’Ruach Elokim Mirachefes El Pnei HaMayim – ‘And the Spirit of Hashem was hovering upon the waters’. All the water was close to Hashem. But then, on the second day God split the waters. He made the Mayim Elyonim and the Mayim Tachtonim – the Upper Waters and the Lower Waters. This is the greatest form of disappointment. The Mayim Tachtonim, the Lower Waters thought, ‘We used to be all the way up there, and now we’re all the way down. Their given reality couldn’t have been farther from the original expectation.

But the Nisuch HaMayim and the Simchas Beis HaSho’eiva that highlights it are together the processes that reunite the Mayim Elyonim with the Mayim Tachtonim. It’s the ultimate resolution of the water’s existential disappointment. We put the water on the Altar and raise it up to the level of  where it originally was. In a sense, the water once again gets to feel like its truest self. It goes back to it’s original state of being. Our Simcha of V’Yipach B’Apav Nishmas Chayim, our joy or becoming fully ourselves is one in the same the water’s returning to the status of V’Ruach Elokim Mirachefes Al Pnei HaMayim. The Jews and the water celebrate together.

How do we see this in the Torah? It emerges by the Akeida, the dramatic moment in the Torah where Avraham Avinu sends forth his hand to slaughter his only son as a sacrifice. Avraham is called out to from above, Avraham! Avraham! Don’t do it! Spare your son! You’ve already passed the test.

Why is Avraham’s name repeated when he is called? The Sfarim explain that in Shamayim there is portrait of me. This portrait dictates what I would look like if everything went right. What my life would be if I totally fulfilled my potential. This is the ‘me’ upstairs. Then there is me down here, the way that I match up. The difference between me down here and me up there is the root of spiritual disappointment.

Avraham’s name was repeated – Avraham! Avraham! – in order to let him know that the Avraham down here was identical to the idealistic portrait of Avraham up there. Through his tests, through his effort and growth he reached an internal wholeness and a total unification of self.

This complete inner dynamic proves to us (based on our definition of Joy) that Avraham Avinu was in total Simcha because of the Akeida. Because, as we stated above, the Divine Pressence and thus Ruach HaKodesh only appear in a place of Simcha, and had Avraham not had been in a place of joy he would have not heard the Heavens cry out ‘Avraham! Avraham!’ in the first place!

The Simcha of the lower Avraham matching the supernal Avraham draws from the same place as the Simcha of the Mayim Tachtonim finally reunifying with the Mayim Elyonim. But how is this my Simcha as well?

By putting together everything thaw we said, we can fully understand why Simcha is the vessel of Ruach HaKodesh, and why it is specifically the Simchas Beis HaSho’eiva that highlights this element:

After Yom Kipur, I’m pure again. The slate is clean. All the things that created the gap between the me that I’m supposed to be and the me that I really am are now gone. I’m fully myself. There is nothing that separates me from my personal V’Yipach B’Apav Nishmas Chayim. That’s the highest form of Simcha. I’m me. I’m back. ‘Me’ – in the truest sense of the word – is emerging once again. I once more sense my Chelek Eloka MiMa’al, my Godly spark. Tapping into this awareness is the inner tranquility of true Simcha and it itself is Ruach HaKodesh.

HaKadosh Baruch Hu should give us a Bracha to be able to really sense this. To be able to feel the joy pumping in my veins. To attain the realization that my truest self is Divine. To accept the Ruach HaKodeh that comes from fully knowing who I am. If we can take advantage of the moments that carry with them this exalted mindstate there is no doubt that we will live lives of true, deep Simcha, moving closer to HaKadosh Baruch Hu and ultimately bring the Geulah Sheleima!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Yom Kipur: Face to Face

The following is based on a conversation with HaRav Moshe Shapira Shlit’a. Please feel free to print this out and read it over Yom Kipur.

After forty days of preparation, after experiencing the fresh feelings of Elul, the anticipation as we moved towards and awe we felt on Rosh HaShanah, after praying and fasting and working on ourselves during Aseres Yimei Teshuva we’ve finally made it. We have arrived at Yom Kipur. A day that is called the Tachlis HaTeshuvah – the Apex of Returning. A moment on the calendar whose very essence is suffused with a force that returns all souls to the Divine.

The Passuk says, “Ki BaYom HaZeh YiChaper Aleichem L’Taher Eschem MiKol Chatoseichem” – For on this day He shall bring atonement upon you, to purify you of all of your sins. The Rambam (and this is found in earlier sources as well) learns from this verse that there is something intrinsic about this day that atones. There is an energy that is hardwired into this date - the tenth of Tishrei - that washes away sins. As he says himself, “V’Atzmo Shel Yom HaKipurim Michaper” – The essence of the day generates forgiveness.

This would be simple enough, but neither the Passuk, nor the Rambam stop there. “Ki BaYom HaZeh YiChaper Aleichem L’Taher Eschem MiKol Chatoseichem.” We already said what this means, but the Passuk throws in three last words: ‘Lifnei Hashem Tit’haru’, ‘In front Hashem shall you be purified.’ What is this addition? We were just told that there is an energy infused into the day, what is added by Lifnei Hashem Tit’haru?

Furthermore, the Rambam doesn’t simply say that V’Atzmo Shel Yom HaKipurim Michaper. It’s true that the day purifies, but it only does so LaShavim – to those who are doing Teshuvah. Once you are already in the zone, only then can Yom Kipur cleanse the soul. So what is it? Is it the day, or is it me?

Another question: Since the beginning of Chodesh Elul we end our Davening with L’David Hashem Ori V’Yishi. King David says that God is his light and salvation. Subsequently we realize that God is our light and salvation. Elul and Tishrei are a time of repentance and judgment. We’d then expect to add verses that deal with repentance to our prayers. But the problem is that ‘L’David’ seemingly makes no mention of Teshuvah. It speaks solely of Emunah and Bitachon – faith and trust in Hashem. “Hashem is my strength, whom shall I dread?” “Though a war will rise up against me, it is in Him that I shall trust.” “On a day of evil He shall protect me in His sanctum.” My fear and enemies would have consumed me, Lulei He’Emanti L’Ros B’Tuv Hashem, had I not believed that I would see the goodness of God.

Not one word about Teshuvah! What’s going on? If we are going to add Tehilim to our prayers, at least let’s make is appropriate! Let’s make it fit the season!

A third question. The Rambam, when detailing how to do Teshuva gives a Girsa, a base-text that serves as a model. This styling includes all the necessary components for a valid Teshuvah. Chatasi, Avisi, U’Pashati Lifanecha V’Asisi Kach V’Kach. God, I sinned on all sorts of levels; on purpose, by accident, due to a lack of self-education. I did x, y and z. I’m not happy about it. I wish I didn’t do it. I’m not going to do it again.

Our rough translation left out one word. Chatasi Avisi U’Pashati Lifanecha – I sinned an all sorts of levels in front of you. This is an odd addition. It’s seemingly not needed. The line would make perfect sense without it. And if that’s the case, then why include it? And in the non-obligatory additional paragraph in Shmona Esrei, we include this ‘Lifanecha’ – what does it add? Why does my Teshuvah need to include Lifanecha?

Furthermore, in the blessing in Shmona Esrei that is supposed to inspire is to do Teshuvah, we say V’Hachazireinu B’Teshuvah Sheleima L’Fanecha, Baruch Atah Hashem HaRotzeh B’Teshuvah. …And return us in a full repentance before You. Blessed are you Hashem who desires Teshuvah. Once again, the line would make perfect sense without the added ‘Lifanecha’. What is it coming to do?

And if we want to know what’s really going on with Lifanecha then we need a more exact translation of what the word means. While it is used as ‘In front of You’ or ‘Before You’, it literally means ‘Towards Your Face.’ Plugging this definition into everything that we asked, what is this obsession with God’s face as it relates to Teshuvah?

The Kotzker Rebbe once said that every sin carries with it a semblance of heresy and idol-worship. Why is this so? Because the only way that I could cognizantly reject the Divine Will would be if I didn’t believe in Reward and Punishment or if I conveniently forgot about the omnipresence of Hashem. Either way; doing a sin requires some form of denying the existence of God, because if I really believed that He was Mamesh there, if I knew that He was right next to me then of course I wouldn’t do it. Shivisi Hashem L’Negdi Tamid.

Based on this, the underlying power of Teshuvah would need to be a return to the awareness that God is an all-encompassing reality. He totally surrounds me. He is with me and watches me every second. He is standing right next to me and pumping me with life even in the moment that I go against His Will! Once we understand that a sin stems from ignoring God, we learn that rectifying that misgiving is not simply not doing it again, it’s not just fixing the bad trait, rather the essence of Teshuvah is primarily based on bringing HaKadosh Baruch Hu back into my life and staring Him face to Face.

Teshuvah doesn’t just mean admitting that I did something wrong. It’s not just saying Chatasi, Avisi U’Pashati. It’s not just fixing the problem by requesting V’HaChazireinu B’Teshuvah Sheleimah. That’s nice, but that’s not Teshuvah. Teshuvah is Chatasi, Avisi U’Pashati Lifanecha. It’s V’HaChazireinu B’Teshuvah Sheleimah Lifanecha! It’s only Teshuvah if it’s based on a return to an awareness of the Divine.

The Kedushah and Taharah attained via Teshuvah comes as a result of an encounter. It manifests itself on the heels of a connection. The realization of God as a real and meaningful part of my life opens up avenues of connection that were previously closed.

Now we understand why L’David is the perfect passage of Tehilim to add to our prayers. In order to fully tap in to a window in time that presents itself as an opportunity for Teshuvah we need a constant reminder of what Teshuvah is really all about. No series of verses says it better. Passuk after Passuk drive home the message: Hashem is real. He surrounds me and fills my life. When I’m with Him, it’ll all be okay. As the Passuk in ‘L’David says, ‘Es Panecha Avakesh’ - ‘I seek your Face.’ I seek to have that intimate connection with you. From the other side of the street you can still feel a connection with a person with whom you make eye-contact. Es Panecha Avakesh, a longing to attain a life infused with Shivisi Hashem L’Negdi Tamid is the basis of all Teshuvah.

Thus the Rambam makes perfect sense as well. There is a waterfall of Taharah coming into the world on the day of Yom Kipur. But if you are not amongst the Shavim, if you don’t turn around and get under the water then it can’t cleanse you.

A Parable: In the room in which I’m currently sitting there is Chinese folk music blaring. Why can’t I hear it? The radiowaves are there, I’m just not tuned into the proper station. So too on Yom Kipur. On this day an energy fills the world. The station to tune in to is called ‘Lifanecha’.

Lastly, the Pasuk that we started with now dances with clarity: “Ki BaYom HaZeh YiChaper Aleichem L’Taher Eschem MiKol Chatoseichem.” For on this day He shall bring atonement upon you, to purify you of all of your sins. ‘Lifnei Hashem Tit’haru’ In front Hashem shall you be purified. Or, perhaps more accurately, ‘Towards Hashem’s Face shall you be purified.’ Because if it’s not Lifnei Hashem then it can’t be Tit’haru.

This is Mamesh such a big job. This is an Avodas HaChayim, this is a job that will take us our whole lives. Time and time again we may catch ourselves and see how we’ve been caught off guard. This is the bottom line – what it all comes down to. Es Panecha Avakesh. Ah! Face-to-face with the Creator. This is Yom Kipur. Lifnei Hashem Tit’haru.

HaKadosh Baruch Hu should give us a Bracha that we should be able to tap into our inner wellsprings of motivation and inspiration. We should associate with the place within ourselves that is crying out – ES PANECHA AVAKESH! Auch a mindset, if we can be meritorious enough to carry it into the year, will no doubt bring us to a life of Simcha and Sheleimus, moving closer to HaKadosh Baruch Hu and ultimately the Geulah Sheleimah!