Sept. 22, 2006
Reconnecting with G-d
Should we feel awe or fear as the High Holy Days draw nearer?
Each year at this time, we occupy ourselves with preparations for
the Jewish New Year. For those of us who are teachers or have children
in school, it is already a new beginning, as a new school year starts
and we set up routines and carpools. We clean our homes and cook
and bake for family and guests. These are the physical preparations.
What about the spiritual ones? Do we omit them, hoping they will
take care of themselves?
Throughout the month of Elul, preceding Rosh Hashanah, a shofar
is blown every morning after services, to announce and remind us
that Rosh Hashanah is coming soon. How do we react to the shofar's
powerful blast? Does it inspire us to repent?
It has always intrigued me how preparations for the holiest days
of the year and the actual High Holy Days themselves, the two days
of Rosh Hashanah and the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, are perceived
by various Jewish people.
To some, these days are the only times during the year when they
attend synagogue services. For others, they are days of complete
unity with G-d and spiritual fulfilment. Still others approach these
days with much fear and trepidation, and may lose sight of the true
meaning and esoteric beauty these days represent.
Feelings aroused at this time of year run the gamut from guilt,
shame and anxiety to happiness, contentment and bliss.
I believe that it is possible and indeed preferable to anticipate
these holy days with awe rather than fear, maintain the proper respect,
while at the same time enjoy their esoteric beauty.
Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the first Rebbe of Lubavitch, explained
in a discourse that with the sound of the shofar blast, we awaken
and draw down to the physical world a new radiance from the highest
source that is closest to the essential essence of G-d. Then this
radiance evolves into the new creation of every aspect of the spiritual
worlds, right down to our physical world.
Each year, the divine service of the shofar blowing must be done
in a new way, so that the radiation of G-dly life force into all
the worlds (spiritual and physical) will likewise be renewed on
Rosh Hashanah. Then, each month on Rosh Chodesh, the first
day of the new Hebrew month, this life force will be transferred
to all the days of that month.
Due to the lack of spirituality nowadays, we are less able to perceive
the change between old and new life forces. Jewish mysticism explains
that this does occur and has an effect on the external existence
of the world we live in.
We are very special in G-d's eyes. There are many verses in the
Torah that specifically show G-d's love for us, His Chosen nation.
In Deuteronomy 26:18, the verse tells us that G-d has distinguished
us to be a treasured people. Verse 26:19 continues praising us by
saying, "And to place you superior to all the nations whom
He made, for praise and for reknown and for glory, and so that you
may be a people sanctified to G-d."
So, why should we, G-d's beloved children, approach Him with fear
and trembling to beg His forgiveness for our sins throughout the
previous year? Why should we be afraid to tell our Father the truth?
Let's look back a bit in history to the first humans.
The Torah tells us that Adam and Eve were created on the sixth day
of Creation, which was Rosh Hashanah. The angels, who tried to dissuade
G-d from creating human beings, were not pleased with G-d's decision.
The commentaries on Genesis tell us that they pleaded with G-d not
to make humans, as they would be capable of sin, whereas they, the
angels, were spiritual beings and incapable of sin.
G-d argued back that He wanted beings that were capable of sinning,
that had both G-dly and animalistic inclinations and free choice,
unlike the angels. Then, when these physical beings would do His
will, He would know it was purely out of love for Him. G-d won the
argument and created human beings, named them and blessed them.
In fact, when G-d created Adam and Eve, He breathed into Adam's
nostrils, the breath of life. In Hebrew, the word for breath is
nisheema and the word for soul is neshama, which both
stem from the same root. This was the beginning of man's connection
with his source.
Jewish mysticism explains this as a continual process since that
first Rosh Hashanah. On some level, which may be difficult for us
to understand, there is a continuous breathing of life from G-d
to humankind that sustains life. If there is any obstruction, it
is blocked and the blown air has trouble reaching its target. This
blockage is created when we sin.
What then can we do to prevent this from happening? Obviously, being
careful of our actions all year is one way, but what about once
we have already sinned? We must admit our wrongdoings and sincerely
make an effort to correct our actions. That, truly, is all that
G-d wants or expects from us, mere mortals at this time of year.
G-d, our Father, is always eager to welcome us back with outstretched
arms and begin a new balance sheet on a clean white page. Like a
parent, He sometimes needs to reprimand us for our misbehavior,
but that doesn't diminish His love for us at all especially
on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year, when we stand before
Him, fasting and in prayer, requesting His forgiveness for our transgressions.
G-d's love for us deepens as He sees our sincere atonement for our
actions and He seals us in the Book of Life for a year of health,
happiness and prosperity.
We remind Him that He wanted mortals, not angels, and that, having
created us, He knows human nature best and should not expect too
much from us. Naturally, G-d forgives us our shortcomings. Let us
look upon the upcoming holy days with optimism, secure in the knowledge
that we are the ultimate purpose of Creation.
May it be G-d's will, that with the final shofar blast concluding
the Yom Kippur service this year and the singing of "Next year
in Jerusalem," we will be whisked away immediately to serve
our beloved master, King of the Universe, in the third and final
Holy Temple with the imminent redemption.
Esther Tauby is a teacher and freelance writer living