Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Our Full Attention

After 40 days of introspection, after an intense two day proclamation of Hashem's sovereignty, after a week's worth of personal self betterment and sincere desire to return, and after an entire day of fasting and praying for the atonement - the cleansing from our past misdeeds - what is the next step in our personal journey ?

Naturally, if we used our time properly and achieved a measure of success in our Elul and Tishrei-so-far, then the real question on our minds is - how do we protect all that we've gained ? How do we prevent the heightened sensitivity to all things holy from dropping beneath the radar into a physicality-induced stupor ? How can we safeguard the "New Me" who is more concerned with my fellow man from slipping into a cynic who is only out for themselves ?

The answer is, of course, Sukkos - but how ?

Well, before our crash course in self betterment, there was plenty of mental energy being focused on our desires, wants and schemes. It is a given that these can prevent one from serving G-d properly. Even once we have emerged, a better person, we have still not directed these energies for good - we have simply denied them their evil application. Enter Sukkos, a holiday that is so filled with mitzvos that it can ( and does ! ) demand our entire attention. We have completed the "סור מרע" and now we are embarking on the "עשה טוב". This is the final part of our reformation - investing in our relationship with Hashem our full attention.

B'Hatzlacha !

Friday, September 21, 2007

The Way We Were

"השיבנו ד' אליך ונשובה חדש ימינו כקדם"
"Return us, Hashem, to you - and we will return, renew our days like they were before"

The greatest miracle of teshuva is a return to the innocent state of pre-sin.

When we do something wrong - we may say we're sorry - we may even mean it - but, generally speaking, we can never become the person we were before the wrongdoing.

Enter the eternal kindness of the Creator. Teshuva is a cooperative venture. When we successfully complete our part ( regret, viduy and acceptance for the future ) Hashem's part begins. In His kindness he really does recreate us into a person - who is startlingly similar to the one we were - with one major difference. The sin is not part of their personal history.

"השיבנו ד' אליך ונשובה חדש ימינו כקדם"
"Return us, Hashem, to you - and we will return, renew our days like they were before"

Gmar Chasima Tova Lekol Klal Yisrael, amen.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Just Our Luck

While it is a matter of great discussion exactly where (or to whom) we sacrifice the Se'ir L'Azazel - the sacrificial scapegoat - all agree that it's fate must be chosen by lottery, or luck.

The Sefer Akeida shows us, through this, yet another facet of Hashem's tremendous kindness towards us.

We know that we must do teshuva for our misdeeds because they are barriers between us and our Father In Heaven. But what about things that we never knew were wrong ? They still create barriers and distance ourselves from the divine connection we wish to have - how can we atone for those sins - we never consciously chose to transgress by doing them ?! It was just our rotten luck that we were never exposed to the right way of doing things !

This is precisely why, says the Akeida, we have to have at least one korban chosen by lottery - or luck. This is to atone for - and remove any barriers created by - any misdeeds that we may have done, without knowing, just by our sheer, ill fated, luck.

And what about nowadays - when we no longer bring this sacrifice ?

We must seize this meaning and concentrate on it - when we mention the Se'ir L'Azazel in Yom Kippur's Mussaf.

Gmar Chasima Tova Lechol Klal Yisrael !

Monday, September 10, 2007

Why Apples ?

Well ...

1. In kabballa, the scent of an apple orchard is said to resemble the smell of Gan Eden. ( see Rashi in Bereshis 27:27 ) therefor - we dip an apple in honey to symbolize our desire to see Hashem's kingdom declared ( as is the focus of the entire Rosh HaShana davening ) and the "scent" of Gan Eden permeate the world.
2. The apple is a traditionally sweet fruit and we dip an already sweet fruit into honey ( which is even sweeter ) to show that we are hoping for a really sweet year. Additionally, the idea of sweetening something is not just a culinary preference - rather - it refers to injecting doses of mercy into Hashem's otherwise strict judgment of us. By sweetening the year we are actually hoping to be judged favorably.
3. Shlomo Hamelech compares the Jewish people to an apple tree [Shir HaShirim 2]. The Medrash Rabba states that the apple fruit matures before the leaves on the tree can sufficiently protect it - similarly - so did bnei yisrael say "Naaseh" ( we will do the mitzvos ) before "Nishma" ( we will hear what they are ). So the apple is symbolic of our wholehearted desire to serve Hashem completely - with no reservations or conditions.

May we ( and all klal yisrael ) be zocheh to a sweet year, a year of bracha and hatzlacha - a year where we truly bring to frui(t)tion all of the symbolism of Rosh Hashana night.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Echoes of Return

The Ohr Hachaim Hakadosh details for us two paths to Teshuva - each one bearing evidence of the supreme kindness that Hashem has does for us when He accepts our teshuva.

The first - Teshuva through suffering.

If we are 'afflicted' with any form of suffering ( ranging from a minor inconvenience - like not having any change for a parking meter - to serious wrath-of-G-d type stuff ) it's our cue to stand up and say "I have sinned - please return me to you, Hashem". We may be convinced that our 'sorry' isn't worth much - after all G-d did have to force it out of us - not so, says the Ohr Hachaim Hakadosh, this is what punishments were created for - and therefor the proper outcome of such punishments is the teshuva process.

The second - Teshuva through blessing.

This mode of teshuva is perhaps harder to come by but yields a much more substantial outcome. When one repents as a result of suffering - there is always the small nagging feeling ( even to the penitent himself ) that it was done merely to spare himself the next blow. If one focuses on Hashem's blessings to us, says the Ohr Hachaim Hakadosh, we can achieve a teshuva which will bring us closer to Hashem. In this mode we aren't running away from negative circumstances into the arms of G-d - we are actually running straight at them with an overwhelming feeling of appreciation. So next time something good happens ( even the smallest thing - like having correct change for the parking meter ) realize all the blessings that Hashem showers down upon us and resolve to try to get even closer to Him in the coming year.

Hatzlacha !