Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Spirit of the Law: Rosh Hashanah I

Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, Chapter 129:1. “In every Kaddish said between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, l’eilah (the phrase that begins with the word ‘above’) is said twice (l’eilah u’l’eilah).”
The Talmud states that Hashem created the world with ten utterances. Nine of these are direct utterances. (“And G-d said: Let there be light... And G-d said: Let there be a firmament...”) The first utterance, however, is indirect. This “hidden” utterance comprises the first words of the Torah: “In the beginning Hashem created….” The first “utterance” does not include any clear indication of Hashem speaking at all. Rebbe Nachman, ztz”l, revealed that this hidden utterance is no less than the underlying fabric of the universe.
The fact is that Hashem’s presence is immanent within creation. Creation’s apparent lack of direct connection with Hashem is only due to His having hidden the real fabric of the universe. When we see how distant we are in any given situation, and search for Hashem from wherever we are with a heartfelt, “Where are You—Ayeh?” we tap into the true fabric of the universe which is actually an emanation from Hashem. Although this is hidden on the surface, it only takes heartfelt searching to tear down the many barriers that block spiritual connection. This ma’amar sasum, this “hidden utterance,” is revealed when we search for Hashem no mater how distant we are from Him.
By saying “l’eilah min kol birchasa vishirasa” in Kaddish, and especially when we say the double,“l’eilah u’l’eilah” during the ten days of Repentance, we activate this potent spiritual tool. The statement, “Hashem is above all blessing and song,” is an expression of our deep understanding that Hashem is the only reality. What we see here in this world is really only an external manifestation of the Divine. The purpose of everything is to draw closer to Hashem, even when we are in the place that seems furthest from Him. Even in such a place, one can be close to Hashem merely by searching for Him. Seeking Him—in whatever we do—is the best way to leave the distant places of bad character traits and the spiritual morasses in which most of us find ourselves.
Since this search for the Divine from wherever I may be is the root of all teshuvah, we say l’eilah u-l’eilah during the Ten Days of Repentance. To merit true repentance and forgiveness, we must redouble our efforts to search for the Divine root of everything at this time especially.
The Shaarei Teshuvah writes that a person is given the opportunity to do teshuvah at all times, but all the more so during the month of Elul and the Ten Days of Repentance. Someone who doesn’t take advantage of the opportunity to escape from the confines of his own sins is like a prisoner whose cell walls were breached by his fellow inmates during the night. Everyone escaped through the tunnel—except the one who foolishly failed to grab his chance while it lasted. When the jailer enters in the morning and sees that one prisoner who didn’t bother to escape, he is so angry he beats him brutally. This prisoner clearly doesn’t understand the gravity of his situation; the conditions in his cell are so inhumane, his chances of long-term survival are minute. Here he had an opportunity to save his life by making a clean getaway and he didn’t bother!
Although we aren’t worthy of the privilege that the reprieve of repentance offers, we must nevertheless take full advantage of it. True repentance frees us from worry and anguish, the inevitable results of sin. Reb Nosson of Breslov, ztz”l, explains the verse, “I will worry because of my sins,” to mean that all worry and depression are direct results of sin. If we are truly appreciate that it is never too late and we can rectify our relationship with Hashem merely by searching for Him, why should we stay worried? The tunnel to exit the prison of our sins is always accessible. We just need to do a proper and balanced teshuvah to leave the prison of anguish and slowly enter the realm of true joy.
Reb Nosson explains that the search for Hashem from wherever we may have fallen is expressed in the cry of the shofar—a blast of pure pain and yearning that is so raw it requires no words. This is also how Reb Nosson describes the heartfelt prayers of the yomim nora’im, the “Days of Awe.” There is an essential character of searching to all of the prayers of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, since seeking Hashem despite what I may have done is the foundation of prayer.
One the one hand, the Jewish people cries out to Hashem, “Return us, Hashem and we will return.” On the other, Hashem responds, “Return to Me and I will return to you.” These two demands seem incompatible. How are we to accomplish reconciliation with Hashem if each “party” insists on the other first expressing regret? But Reb Nosson explains that there is no contradiction. Hashem wants us to return to Him by searching for Him no matter how far we have fallen spiritually. When we cry out to Him, “Return us, Hashem, and we will return to You,” we are actually fulfilling Hashem’s “precondition” that is found in the second verse. We return to Him through searching for Him with heartfelt prayer, and such prayer really comes down to only one word: “Ayeh!” “Where are You? Return us, Hashem, and we will return! We have grown distant from You. Please take us back and bring us closer to You.” This is the true path of repentance.
Reb Nosson writes that we haven’t been redeemed in the course of our long exile because we simply don’t believe that there’s no such thing as despair. If the Jewish people had internalized this message and continued to search for Hashem as hard as they could, no matter how far they had fallen, we would have been redeemed long ago!


Anonymous said...

Anything for Reb Tzodik Yahertzeit?
Maybe an Elul Rosh Hashanah shtikle?

Micha Golshevsky said...

Thank you for the reminder. I am sorry it didn't work out this time.