Blog - Torah Insights

When Rosh Hashanah Collides with Shabbat

When Rosh Hashanah Collides with Shabbat 

You may not notice it, but on the evening of the last day of the year  fatigue sets in. The Kabbalah explains that the Divine desire and pleasure which motivates the creation of the universe returns to its source at the end of the year, leaving the world bereft of inner vitality and spiritual enthusiasm. G-d desired to create the world, but every year that desire evaporates back to its source, when G-d asks Himself whether  the project called existence is worth the investment. When the Jewish people gather and sound the Shofar, when they call out to G-d and display their deep desire to connect, that desire elicits  and draws down the Divine desire to once again invest in the universe, unleashing energy that was never before accessible, creating the potential for unprecedented  growth and achievement in the new year. 

When we realize the power of the Shofar to recreate the Divine desire, accessing  new energy for the new year, we wonder about a year when Rosh Hashanah falls out on Shabbat and we therefore do not sound the Shofar. Does that mean that the upcoming year will lack Divine pleasure,energy and potential?  

Chassidic philosophy explains that the energy of Shabbat achieves the same result as the sounding of the Shofar. What is Shabbat? G-d created the world in six days. During creation one is occupied with the process of creating and one cannot focus on the purpose of the project nor can one derive pleasure from the end result since it is not yet available. When building a home, for example, one is occupied with the design, architecture, and construction. It is only when the project is complete that one can experience the purpose of the construction, a home which one can derive pleasure from. The same is true about Shabbat. At the conclusion of  creation, the purpose of creation can unfold, offering immense pleasure to G-d. Therefore, just like the Shofar, the energy of Shabbat elicits Divine pleasure within creation.   

The same is true in our own experience. During the six days of the week we, each in our own way, seek to create, achieve, and succeed. On Shabbat, the Talmud teaches, “one should consider all of his work achieved”. On Shabbat we have the freedom to let go of the drive to achieve and get in touch with the purpose of all our efforts. On Shabbat we experience pleasure and delight when we dedicate ourselves to the spiritual side of life, which is the purpose of everything we have built and achieved during the six days. 

May this upcoming year be a year in which we rededicate ourselves to the gift of Shabbat, by observing its sanctity and delighting in its pleasure. 

The Story of Return - נצבים וילך

The Story of Return

After all the rebuke, in which we are told of the terrible calamities that will befall  the Jewish people during the exile, the Torah offers profound words of comfort and hope:  

And it will be, when all these things come upon you the blessing and the curse which I have set before you that you will consider in your heart, among all the nations where the Lord your God has banished you,

and you will return to the Lord, your God, with all your heart and with all your soul, and you will listen to His voice according to all that I am commanding you this day you and your children,

then, the Lord, your God, will bring back your exiles, and He will have mercy upon you. He will once again gather you from all the nations, where the Lord, your God, has dispersed you.

(Deuteronomy 30:1-3)

The Torah tells us that at the end of the long and bitter exile we will return to G-d with all our heart and soul and G-d will then bring us back to the land of Israel. This is the only time the Torah explicitly tells us about the concept of Teshuva, return to G-d. 

While Teshuva, the notion that a person can always return to G-d and correct his ways even after straying from the path of goodness, is an important theme in Judaism, the Torah does not explicitly state that there is a commandment to return to G-d. The Torah tells us that it will occur, “and it will be… and you will return to the Lord, your G-d, with all your heart and with all your soul”, but there is no commandment to return. That is why some of the great codifiers do not list Teshuva as one of the six hundred and thirteen commandments. 

How is it possible that something as fundamental as Teshuva is not classified as a commandment? 

Chasidic philosophy explains that Teshuva is not a commandment because it expresses a bond with G-d which is more profound than a commandment.  A commandment implies that the person being commanded must negate his own will and desire and fulfill the will of G-d. Teshuva however stems from the place in the soul of a Jew which wants nothing other than to cleave to its divine source. The Torah does not command Teshuva, for Teshuva can not be a commandment, after all the person in need of Teshuvah disregarded the commandment. The Torah tells us that Teshuva will inevitably occur. How can the Torah be so certain? It is because the Torah knows that within every Jew there is a soul which is a part of G-d. Sooner or later it will motivate the person to return, not because it is  commanded. For the soul does not need to be commanded. It senses that it is one with G-d and it wants nothing more than to reconnect. 

The exercise of Teshuva then, is to remove the layers of distraction and reveal our innate desire to be connected to  G-d.

Your connection to G-d is much more than a commandment. It is who you are. It is your story.  

(Adapted from the teachings if the Rebbe, Lekutei Sichos, 38 Naso 1)

How Do You Spend Your Money? - כי תבוא

How Do You Spend Your Money?

How you spend your money reflects what you value and the life you strive to create for yourself. What does the Torah tell us about what we should strive to create with our money? 

The farmer in the land of Israel is commanded to give three forms of tithings: 

The first tithing: six years of the seven year Sabbatical cycle the farmer was commanded to give ten percent of his produce to the Levites, who did not receive a portion of the land, and were dedicated to serving G-d, teaching Torah, and supporting the priests in their service in the Temple.  

The second tithing: in the first, second, fourth and fifth year of the Sabbatical cycle, the farmer was commanded to designate ten percent of the produce and eat it, or its value, In Jerusalem, in celebration with his family and with others. 

The tithing of the poor: in the third and sixth year of the Sabbatical year the farmer was commanded to give ten percent of the produce to the poor. 

These three forms of tithing are not merely a list of the causes we are commanded to support, they represent the values we strive to create in our lives. Our efforts, the money we spend, the possessions and experiences we accumulate, should all serve one of these categories of tithing. 

In order to live a healthy and wholesome life we must first create moments and experiences of spirituality, moments of prayer, study and meditation. We take some of our money, which is the produce of our efforts, creativity and energy and invest it in  the holy. That money, that investment of time and effort, is the figurative “first tithing” which is designated to support the “Levite”. For in those moments of spirituality we are experiencing the lifestyle of the Levite. 

The ultimate purpose of creation, however, is not to escape the physical world and retreat to spirituality, but rather to sanctify and elevate the material world. This is represented by the second tithing, when the Jew was commanded to eat and enjoy food, the benefit from the material world, but to do so in Jerusalem. Figuratively, this represents benefiting from the material blessings in our life but doing so in a holy context, for a spiritual purpose. 

While the second tithing is the actual purpose of creation it cannot be achieved before we experience the first tithing. In order to ensure that we are using the bounty of the physical world for a spiritual purpose we must first experience the first tithing, the spiritual experience. Only when we begin our day with a moment of study and prayer can we ensure that the experiences of rest of the day will be elevated and sanctified.

If the first tithing prepares us to be able to experience the second tithing then the tithing of the poor is the gauge that indicates to us whether we are indeed experiencing the second tithing. The indicator that our physical possessions and experiences are not making us more self centered and materialistic, but, on the contrary, are enhancing our service of G-d, is that we are able to transcend ourselves and help our fellow.   

To live a balanced life, every dollar you spend should be included in one of three categories: (1) The first tithing: serving a spiritual purpose. (2) The second tithing: a physical need or pleasure that is sanctified because it enhances a spiritual purpose. (3) the tithing of the poor: to transcend the self and contribute for the benefit of others. 

(Based on the commentary of Rabbi S.R. Hirsh). 

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