I want to teach you a holy Torah from the Arizal. By way of introduction let me say that we all know how the Torah tells the story of each and every one of our lives. The midrash that I am so fond of quoting says, “Histakel b’Oraisa uborei olmah, Hashem looked into the Torah and created the world.” In truth it is a commandment, “Look into the Torah and create the world.” Your world. One of the earlier Chabad Rabbis commented on the commandment of a Jewish King to keep a Torah with him and read it every day. The Posuk tells us, “V’Hosah imo v’karah bo kol y’mei chayuv. And he should have it (a Torah scroll) and read in it all the days of his life.” The simple reading of this is that a king should read from the Torah every. The Rebbe reads the Posuk in such a beautiful and transformative way, “He should have the Torah with him and read all the days in his life in the Torah.” Find everything in your life in the Torah. Read about yourself in the Torah.
Rav Wolbe (Da’as Shlomo: Ma’Amarei z’man matan Torosenu) writes that the quintessential study of Torah is not the way it seems, people learning Torah from text based writing. Instead a person learns from himself or herself and the words come out of our hearts. But we need the written words of the texts to awaken that which we have forgotten. Real learning of Torah is reading, thinking, studying and grappling with concepts that arouse the individual personal and specific parts of ourselves that are unique to ourselves. To awaken our souls. The Torah is autobiographical. Its words are the language of our souls. And it is meant for us to read about ourselves in it.
Let’s take Halacha, for example. I was raised to think that Halacha are Hashem’s expectations for us. Externally driven for us to give to an outside Divine Power. But in truth, Halacha is nothing of the sort. Halacha is descriptive. It is a description of how things are in their raw natural state. The halachos of Shabbos are not restrictive or demands to be followed. They are, in essence, simply a guide for how our souls are designed.
But of course, who feels this? And so, it is our job to try. To see how my personal life is intricately and fundamentally connected, nay, the same as the halachos of say, Ribbis (One may not take interest on a loan to a fellow Jew). It takes soul searching and tremendous personal awareness, honesty and integrity to find Ribbis in myself, to find that place that is Shabbus and that place that is called, for example, Shiluach HaKan. Essentially, the teachings of Chassidus are meant as a guide towards personal development. As a therapist I get the opportunity to work with many people. I have had this discussion with many Chassidim about Chassidishe Seforim. In their efforts to follow the strict guidelines set by many great Chassidic Tzadikkim lots of OCD, self-negation and dysfunction may rise. And I tell them that they need to have an overhaul in how they read a Noam Elimelech or Kedushas Levi. The big tzaddikim are not teaching about ideals in Avodas Hashem or halachos of how people are supposed to act. Their Torahs are mainly biographical diaries of how they have experienced Shabbos in their lives. A description of how they experienced. Not a proscription of how people need to act or a bar set for how people should feel. These Torahs should inspire us, of course. Inspires us to reach higher, to open our hearts and set us aflame with the beauty of what our souls know and what Hashem has given to us in his Mitzvohs.
With this in mind, let’s understand that Torah learning has four levels. We call them PARDES, an acronym standing for Pshat, Remez, Drush, Sod. In English I would translate these as Fundamentals, Allegory, Explication and Essence. These four worlds overlap, interconnect, weave together, are in tension and ultimately comprise the vast infinity of Torah. Let’s think about two of these, PShat and Sod or Fundamentals and Essence. The Torah can be read as proscriptive. Meaning, as we normally tend to think of things, the Torah exists as a guide to knowing what Hashem wants from us. Fundamental and hard facts about how we are supposed to live. But we also have Sod, essence, which describes to us how each and every nuance of how we are supposed to live is connected to the various nuances of ourselves. Read every day of your life in Torah. Find yourself in Torah.
Now let’s learn a sentence from the Arizal as it is something so deeply connected with Rosh Hashana. Allow me to point out that Rosh Hashana is the New Year. The beginning of a new cycle of our lives. We blow Shofar and we express our appreciation to Hashem for all he has done for us. We are “Mamlich” or king Him His kingship. Humanity’s acceptance of and expression of allegiance or connection with Him is the greatest activation and demonstration of His power. “Ein melech b’lo am. There is no king without a nation.” Kingship is demonstrated through the nation’s relationship with the king. Without it there is no substantive fundamental difference whether the king is really a king or not.
In other words, of course Hashem does not need His people in order to be Hashem, but it is only through the actualization of the King’s wishes through his people that the Kingship is expressed in this world. Of course, we understand then that when we say on Rosh Hashana, “Hayom Haras Olam. Today is the birth of the world,” we are not referring to the birthday of the creation of the world, which takes place on the 25th of Elul but rather to the day man was created. Because man brings about the actualization of Hashem’s desire for creating the world. Fundamentally, man’s choices in this world expressing Hashem’s will demonstrates the Kingship of Hashem. But this is P’Shat.
Let’s learn a Sod, a secret about our essence.
The Arizal explains two words in the beginning of Parshas Bereishis that have been grappled with by humanity since they were expressed. In creation of humanity Hashem says, “Na’aseh Adam. Let US create man.” This one Hebrew letter “nun” that in English translates to “US”, has been grappled with throughout the centuries of Meforshim and l’havdil bible critics. All trying to understand the implications of Hashem creating man through a process of dialogue with something other than Himself. Man’s creation takes place through a process of dialogue. There is so much to write here. But let me tell you how the Arizal explains this. We know that Hashem created the world through ten utterances. The Mishna in Pirkei Avos says this, with ten utterances Hashem created the world. If you look through the Pesukim of the actual creation of the world the word, “Vayomer and He said” is mentioned nine times. The tenth “utterance” is “Breishis in the beginning”. That first word is considered an utterance. Without explaining this too deeply, the ten utterances spoken by Hashem in creating the world represent ten middos or characteristics of Hashem. These middos are Kesser, Chochma, Bina, Chessed, Gevurah, Tiferes, Netzach, Hod, Yesod, Malchus. Says the Arizal, each “Vayomer” that Hashem spoke expressed another characteristic of Himself into this world. But when it came to creating man, Hashem spoke to each characteristic, Na’aseh Adam. In dialogue with Himself, He gathered His ten characteristics and put them into a single creature. Man.
Man. The pinnacle of creation. The purpose of it all. The essence of purpose itself.
Let’s fast-forward a bit. We know the Midrash teaches us that when Hashem created the world, He made the world’s existence contingent on whether the Jewish people would accept the Torah. And of course, we did and we now enjoy the best this world has to offer. Like Trump and Clinton. In any event, the Zohar reflects a dialogue that takes place between Hashem and the nations of the world in reference to the giving of the Torah. Hashem offers the Torah to the nations of the world and they immediately ask Him, “mah ksiv bei? What’s written in it?” In response, Hashem tells each nation something in the Torah that restricts behaviors that are driven by the very nature of each nation. To Edom, Hashem tells them that killing is off limits in the Torah. Edom’s response, upon reflection, is one of fantastic self-awareness. The conquering blood-lusting nature of Edom leads them to reject the Torah.
The Gemorah in Kesubos (112:1) relates how a non-Jew sneered at the great Amora R’ Zeira calling the Jewish people, “Ama Peziza, an impulsive nation,” for agreeing to accept the Torah. It’s impossible, the non-Jew said, to complete all that is demanded by God through the Torah. I don’t remember who I recently read that says that this sneering remark was actually a viable and valid complaint against the Jewish nation for accepting the Torah. It’s impossible to do it all.
Let me offer a thought. I think it is entirely plausible that the nations of the world are correct, it really is impossible to complete Torah. In fact, living in Golus without a beis Hamikdash cuts out hundreds of mitzvohs! Look around at the dismal reality of how few Jews simply try to fulfill the Torah’s commandments and from those of us who try how many succeed? But this valid position is only valid if you understand Hashem’s offer of the Torah the way the nations of the world understood the offer. “Mah ksiv bei, What’s written in it?” they asked. In their understanding, Hashem offered them the Torah with the following implicit message. “I have a book. In this book is a list of my demands, stories that reflect morality, a blueprint for how I want you to live. I, God, am shopping around to find someone who can be my nation. Who will fulfill My wishes and commands? The Torah is such a book. It is looking for a home. Do you want to take a crack at fulfilling its detailed commands?” And the nations of the world asked, like they should have, “give us a taste of something that is in there”. And Hashem understood their implicit message. They wanted to know if they would be capable of accomplishing the demands. So, He choose the one thing that would create tension within them. And they, rightfully, caved. Rightfully because if the focus is on the demands they won’t make it.
In every race a good coach will train his athlete that while actually running, the focus is never on the end goal. The focus is on the running.
The Jews said, “Na’aseh v’Nishma We will do and we will listen.” The Gemorah in Shabbus (88:1) relates that when the Jews said this, Hashem wondered, “Who revealed to my children this secret that my angels use?” What secret and why angles? So listen deeply. Listen so deeply because this is the missing link in our generation. What we are missing, and what our souls are screaming out so powerfully for.
“Na’aseh,” we cried. In unison. From the depths of our existence. Na’aseh! We understood Hashem’s question of, “do you want to Torah?” so differently than the nations of the world. We implicitly understood that the Torah needs no person to do anything for it to exist. Hashem needs no people for Him to be King, no person to do what the Torah asks or demands or expects. We implicitly felt this need to express the various facets of our lives. The express, cultivate, grow, activate, raise, refine, elevate, improve, complete and better every single nuanced aspect of our Selves in this world. To mimic God’s character traits in our own specific personal and individualistic needs. Because each and every member of humanity is filled with the ten character traits of God. The endless possibilities that come with our unique potentials.
And so, Hashem offered them the Torah and the Jewish people understood that Hashem was asking, “Who wants to manifest their potential in the world? Who wants to make of themselves the ultimate human being?” And the Jewish people, thunderously screamed NA’ASEH. Na’aseh Adam. And the Shofar, the breath of God blew. The breath Hashem blew into earth when He created man. The breath that contained all ten character traits of God. The breath of na’aseh Adam.
And Hashem didn’t tell them what was in the Torah. Because He understood that these were a people who desired to express of themselves into this world. To reveal their secrets and do what they are compelled to do by the very essence of their nature, like angels- manifest their potential into this world. The Jewish people said, Na’aseh- we will do- we will do “ourselves”. And they followed this up with Nishma. We are ready to hear that which is in the Torah that speaks to every nuanced part of ourselves. And we will learn about the potential of humanity for destruction and for beauty by studying with and grappling with the vast infinite wisdom that tells our personal stories. And we will look into Torah and find ourselves and learn about ourselves and understand Torah.
The Torah needs no Kiyum, or fulfillment. It is us humans that have the opportunity to express. Our “impulsivity” wasn’t impulsive at all. If you keep your head focused on how well you are utilizing your strengths and how well you are cultivating your unique potential, you will fly so much higher than your perceived limitations. If your focus is on your goal of mekayem Torah you won’t realize how much you can do. If your focus is on your potential and capabilities you can have your cake and eat it too.
The Mishna in Pirkey Avos says, “Al tadin es chaverch ad shetagiya lmekomo, don’t’ judge your friend until you have reached his place.” The Sfas Emes poetically says three words, “v’lo tagiya lmekomo, and you won’t ever be in his place.” Don’t sit in judgement of your friend until you will be in his place but you will never be in his place. These days are called the Yemei Hadin. The days of judgment. I was thinking about how Hashem sits in judgement of us. It must be that Hashem sits in our place with us. He dons our shoes before He judges us. He is called Hamakom, right? He puts Himself in our place and judges us based on our capabilities and our life circumstances. Not based on some abstract, external demand made by an esoteric text from a few thousand years ago. In fact, He is the only one that can judge us. Because He is the only one that can know what our place is. He is the only one that can know the inner nuances of myself, how the parts of myself sit in tension between my brokenness and my potential. He is the only One that can know my tests and tribulations, my successes and failures. Not just because He made me and gave me my tests but because He lives with me. He lives in every aveira I do. In every failure I sustain. And He cries with me. Not over me. He cries for how much I want so badly to do better. He cries for my confusion and my pain. Only He can. He cries for me and His tears give me permission to cry for myself. A friend asked me if there was a connection between Tisha B’Av, the Shiva d’Nechemta and Rosh Hashana. I think that the biggest Nechoma is to know that the unbringing of the Beis Hamikdash is in itself the tears that Hashem cries ALONG WITH US in Golus. Tears that give me permission to cry.
But here the Torah gets so much deeper. Because you know that if Hashem lives in the depths of my Aveira. And He is the light that allows me to grieve and try again then He is also living in my successes. Oy how broken we are. Sit with any broken Jew and all you hear is how much they can’t seem to get it right. We have lost real self-awareness in our lives. Do you know how successful we are? How much do you think the average orthodox Jew keeps the basic mitzvohs listed in the Mishna Berura? Stop this incessant focus on Jewish guilt already!! If Hashem cries with me in my failures could you imagine how He dances for joy in every movement I make towards light? In every mitzvah I do? Or even every thought I have of doing a Mitzvoh? Do you know how He cries tears of Joy for me when I make one tiny baby step closer to expressing my true potential in this world? How He wishes I would laugh with him when He sees me trying to activate me? When I am trying to live Na’aseh Adam like?
During this summer I saw four separate rainbows. One of them was a complete rainbow, half a circle, perfectly hugging the sky. And I took a picture and video of it and sent it around to friends. My sister messaged me privately confused, asking me about whether we are allowed to look at rainbows. I wrote her back, the fact that we as humans are not doing well and deserve to be destroyed is something that we all know already. But could you imagine what it means that He is showing us His connection with us? How much He hugs us with all of His colors? With all of His middos?
Let me conclude with a Bracha. A prayer. A hope for each and every one of us. That we live in this reality of looking constantly at ourselves. To know who we are. To rebirth our potential this Rosh Hashana. And work every second to choose things that are best for ourselves. To live like the great poets of old, the great Tzadkkim who crafted the language of Hashem’s dialogue with Himself to create us. The ones who looked in the Torah and created worlds out of their own lives. Let us mimic them, let us learn about ourselves from them and let us express our greatest yearning for Moshiach who will lead us into the truest expression of Na’aseh Adam with the freedom from this exiled life we live.