Sunday, September 25, 2011

Getting A-Head In The New Year

Why is the Jewish new year called Rosh Hashanna ? I mean, 'head-of-year- ?!? Why not – 'new year' ? Or 'start of year' ?

That is because this isn't just the beginning. When something starts – it is usually slow to get going. The beginning of a party is almost never the most memorable – neither are the first few plays of a crucial game. It's just the start.

The head is something completely different.

Within the head you have the greatest concentration of life enabling processes. The head isn't just the part of you that happens to be tallest – it's the part that's closest to the heavens.

When you try to swim – it's called keeping your head above water. And when you drown (chas veshalom !) it's when your head goes under. More than anything else – where your head is at – is where you're at.

So Rosh Hashanna is not just a time to start something on the right foot – it's a time to figure out where your head is at. When Hashem seeks Adam in Gan Eden right after his sin (which took place on Rosh Hashanna) he asks him one question – "ayeka?" – loosely translated – "Where you at ?!".

Hashem asked Adam that – and each year He asks us too.

Oh, and another thing. In order to put your head where you want it to be – you may just have to stick your neck out a little.

May you be written and inscribed in the good book of health, life and happiness.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Why The Hidden Face ?


וחרה אפי בו ביום ההוא ועזבתים והסתרתי פני מהם והיה לאכל ומצאהו רעות רבות וצרות ואמר ביום ההוא הלא על כי אין אלהי בקרבי מצאוני הרעות האלה: ואנכי הסתר אסתיר פני ביום ההוא על כל הרעה אשר עשה כי פנה אל אלהים אחרים:

[דברים לא:יז-יח]

"And I will exhibit great anger towards them on that day … and they will say – it is because G-d is not in my midst that these misfortunes have come upon me. And I will surely hide my face from them on that day …"[Devarim 31:17-18]

All throughout sefer devarim we see this pattern to Moshe Rabbeinu's discourse. If we are properly righteous then Hashem will reward us with goodness and if we fail in our duties to Him then calamities will be our sorry lot.

The Shem MiShmuel points out that here the order is not quite right. We see in passuk 17 that Hashem will punish us ( the previous passuk describes our abandonment of Hashem – so His actions are in line with the devarim pattern ) but in the end of the passuk we have reached a reconciliation. Recognizing that leaving Hashem out of our lives is a negative thing we accept our troubles as due payment for our unfaithfulness.

Isn't this sufficient teshuva ? Why then does passuk 18 continue with Hashem's punishments ?

In this season of teshuva – the answer can guide us greatly.

The recognition that we came to in passuk 17 was not complete teshuva and does not absolve us completely from the responsibility for our sins.

It was a great start. The knowledge that distance from Hashem is what brings about all of our sorrows is absolutely fundamental in achieving the proper worldview. But it is not enough. We must strive for more than just utilitarian teshuva, says the Shem MiShmuel, more than just doing our minimum as a safety net against tragedy. Our relationship with Hashem should be one of excellence, one of reaching ever higher and toiling to create a spiritual paradise.

This year – reach for the stars ! Hashem's waiting for you !

Hatzlacha !!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Happy Happy, Joy Joy


דברים [כו יא]

"ושמחת בכל הטוב אשר נתן לך ידוד אלהיך ולביתך אתה והלוי והגר אשר בקרבך:"

"And you shall rejoice in all the goodness that Hashem, your G-d, has given you and to your household – you and the Levite and the convert that is in your midst"

[Devarim 26:11]

The Torah tells us that the bringing of the bikurim, or first fruits, is a time of great rejoicing. But hidden within this passuk is a greater wisdom that can teach us to be happy always.

When my hand is involved in the growing process – I feel a great satisfaction when I see the final product. The phrase "fruits of my labor" comes to mind. I may think (erroneously – you knew that was coming, right ?) that the higher percentage of credit I claim for myself – the greater my satisfaction and joy. This is not the case (told you !) An unseen pitfall awaits all those who rely on the "strength of their hand". If I am the final judge of what I receive and what I don’t – then I also accept the blame for any discrepancy between the end result that I wanted and the one that I got. Exclusively mine is the frustration of not putting in just one more row …

It is only if I realize that the hand of Hashem is guiding my plow and he is the true source for my success that I will 'forgive' myself for any shortcomings.

And how will I truly find the joy in my G-d given material wealth ? By sharing it with those who have not. Hording your bounty may seem like it will give you more. But in fact, you'll appreciate it less.

Let us commit to seeing divine hashgacha in whatever success we have and to sharing it with those less fortunate – and may we rejoice over our first fruits – and all the ones subsequent.

Hatzlacha !

Friday, September 09, 2011

Do We Hate G-d ?


"כי תהיין לאיש שתי נשים אחת אהובה ואחת שנואה ... " [דברים כא:טו]

"And if a man has two wives, one whom he loves and one whom he hates … "

[Devarim 21:16]

While the simple meaning of the passuk is referring to a case where one wife is actually despised – the baalei mussar reveled to us that the passuk teaches us a deeper lesson in the laws of human affection. If a man has two wives and he feels / displays more affection for one – all his protestations of adoration for the other will fall on deaf ears. As far as she is concerned – her husband hates her.

The pesukim we say every day when we bind our fingers with the teffillin describe our relationship with Hashem.

" וארשתיך לי לעולם וארשתיך לי בצדק ובמשפט ובחסד וברחמים: וארשתיך לי באמונה וידעת את ד' "

[הושע ב:כא-כב]

" And I will be betrothed to you forever, and I will be betrothed to you through acts of justice, law, kindness and mercy. And I will be betrothed to you in faith and you will know Hashem. " [Hoshea 2:21-22]

Additionally, when Hashem granted us the torah at Har Sinai, he went forth to greet us – like a bridegroom greeting his bride – and held the mountain over our heads as a chuppah ! In essence, on a national level, we are married to Hashem.

Applying the message of the despised wife – how do we treat our 'spouse' ? Do we love Hashem – just love other things a bit more ? How would Hashem take this ?

Let us recommit to prioritizing our most important relationship – so that it should not suffer disastrous consequences – and may we all be judged to a year of good health and good tidings !

Hatzlacha !!

Friday, September 02, 2011

Without a Blemish

"תמים תהיה עם ד' א-לוקיך" [דברים יח:יג]

"You shall be unblemished with Hashem your G-d" [Devarim 18:13]

What, exactly, is supposed to be unblemished ?

There are two approaches with which we can attempt to find an answer. The first, is that our 'with-ness' or our attachment to Hashem should be unblemished. The passuk would read " You shall be without blemish in your association with Hashem ".

This is a powerful lesson in where our avodah is meant to take us. When we are just starting to acknowledge our spiritual responsibilities – we are like a kid in a candy shop – trying to gorge on good deeds and words of Torah. This period is a very big spiritual high, since we have a total gain from our actions – everything we push ourselves to do is seen as a positive act. As we mature in our service, however, we must accept that we are not just privileged to serve G-d – we are also obligated to. And when we perform a service – it may not be viewed as a gain – maybe it is what we already owe. To this the passuk teaches – let your service of Hashem be without blemish. Let your understanding be such that you realize that you carry obligations to Hashem in addition to the privilege of being able to discharge them. And when you see the greater picture of the scope of your service – you will truly be without blemish in your service – for neither your ego ( self congratulatory over having performed so much good ) nor your conscience ( nagging over the deficiencies in your avodah ) will get between you and your Creator.

The second approach is a beacon to all seekers of spirituality and understanding. If you seek to be without blemish – you must cleave to Hashem your G-d. There are others who will offer other (inferior) means of attaining enlightenment and perfection. This passuk comes on the heels of an entire parsha of false prophets and soothsayers. But if you want the true path to self betterment ? You can be "tamim" – you can achieve a blemish free status. But only with Hashem, your G-d.

Let us take chizzuk from these concepts – that we can reach great heights – as long as we remember to take the Torah path to get there. And that we must strive for a blemish free service – neither too full of our successes nor too distraught over our failures – just attempting to hold fast to Hashem with all of our might.

Haztlacha !!