Thursday, October 13, 2016
REDEMPTION v SALVATION
Rabbi David Walk
O happy day! Now, that's a lyric for Sukkot. It's too bad that it was already appropriated for a famous gospel song. But I still like the sentiment for Sukkot, because it is the happiest time of the year. So, of course, we want to know: What have we got to be so happy about? The simple answer, of course, is: the harvest. But that's so agrarian society. In our modern industrialized world, it's always harvest season somewhere. If you're willing to pay the freight, you can get any produce anytime. In other words, even though we must show gratitude to God for nature's bounty, our Sukkot joy must go beyond agriculture. Which brings me to my essential point of inquiry: What are we so happy about during Sukkot?
To arrive at the point I really want to develop, I must compare Sukkot to Pesach. This includes comparing Tishre to Nissan, and, eventually, geula (redemption) to yeshua (salvation). Why shouldn't my great joy be associated with Pesach. After all that's when we became a nation, and, perhaps more importantly, began our national relationship with God. In chapter six of Exodus, God explains that the relationship with the Patriarchs is about to be updated from a personal connection to a state affiliation. That's pretty momentous, and was only achieved with a series of ten amazing miracles and capped off with (according to Nachmanides) the greatest wonder ever performed by God, the splitting of the Sea. However, the term simcha (joy) is never associated specifically with Pesach anywhere in the Torah. On the other hand, that term appears three times in conjunction with Sukkot, and, by the way, once with Shavuot, but that's for another article.
Look we have a mitzvah of simchat yom tov (holiday joy) on all of our festivals, but how come Pesach doesn't have its own special and unique requirement of simcha? I think that the answer to that question is bound up in the nature of geula. So, what is geula? And don't say 'redemption'! The concept of geula is really quite simple. It means a new beginning. Geula occurs when an old and difficult situation has been removed. It's a transition, and just like 'transition' in the birth process, it's relatively short in duration but very difficult as a process to experience. But it also entails responsibilities. Just like giving birth means you now have a baby to nurture, geula from Egypt meant we had a nation to nurture. And that was neither easy, nor quick.
And that brings us to Sukkot and its essential process. That is yeshua or salvation. Sometimes this term is translated as victory, but that's only true in the spiritual sense. A physical victory is nitzachon. The same mistake can be made when we pray ana Hashem, hoshia na (God, please, save us). That means save us spiritually. When we need a physical saving we say hatzilu. That's why a life guard is called matzil. So, what is the nature of the yeshua on Sukkot? To understand this concept, I must repeat an idea I wrote about a few years back. The prayer Ya'aleh v'yavo, which is recited on all holidays and Rosh Chodesh, was originally only connected to Rosh Hashanah. That's why the word 'remember', the theme of Rosh Hashanah, appears seven times. In this prayer there are three phrases which are so important that the community responds 'amen' when the leader recites them. Those three phrases are: 1. Remember us for goodness, 2. Visit us for blessing, and 3. Save us for life. Those three phrases refer to the three festivals of Tishre. Remember us (zachreinu) is Rosh Hashanah, visit us (pakdeinu) is Yom Kippur, and save us (hoshi'einu) is Sukkot. This phrase teaches us that there is a progression in Tishre. Yom Kippur builds on Rosh Hashanah and Sukkot builds on Yom Kippur. Pekida, which I translated as 'visit' means that after God has remembered us on Rosh Hashanah, we have had a closer encounter with God in which we were visited and assigned something by God, hopefully a role in Jewish destiny.
That brings us to Sukkot and hoshi'einu. If my logic is sound this step must be closer than previous one. First, God remembers us, then God assigns us, and now what? We usually translate hosha na as 'save us', but I'm not sure what this saving is. I think that to truly understand what's happening we must look in the Torah for the first time the root sha'a appears. That would be in the story of Cain and Abel. When Abel brought his offering to God it says God sha'a to the offering. That is often translated as 'respect' or 'regard', both of those fit the context. However, I like to translate that as 'turn to' or perhaps 'paid attention to'. That's what happens on Sukkot. God turns towards us and pays attention to us. While we sit in the sukkah, we should feel the attention of God, perhaps, even the embrace of God. That's the culminating Divine reaction to us in Tishre, and it's supposed to feel so good that we feel profound simcha.
I know that many people like to keep the teshuva process going through Sukkot until Hoshana Raba. And maybe that's good for the procrastinators among us, but I'd like to think that the fear and trepidation is over before we enter the sukka, replaced by joy.
So, geula is wonderful and miraculous, but it doesn't provide the same level of pure simcha that yeshua does. Because geula makes difficult demands upon. However, yeshua just requires sitting in the glow of Divine presence. It means that no matter what truth I revealed about myself on Yom Kippur God loves me enough to forgive. Geula is a new birth of freedom; it's fresh and novel and, sort of, unexpected. Kind of like spring. Yeshua is a culmination of a process, which we have been working towards and anticipating through the High Holidays. Kind of like the harvest. They're both amazing, but yeshua is just so joyous. Chag Sameach!!
Monday, October 10, 2016
SUBJECT: Timely request from Rabbi Dr. Abraham J. Twerski
I believe that in our generation, the single greatest danger to Klal Yisrael is that of immorality. The plague of illicit material on the internet has affected the type of people we would never have suspected vulnerable: yeshiva bachurim, kollel yungeleit and shomrei mitzvos lemehadrin. The Satan has won a battle, hurting so many individuals and families.
But in every generation, G-d in his kindness, sends down someone to sustain Judaism such as the Baal Shem Tov with Chassidus, Rabbi Yisrael Salanter with the Mussar movement and the Chofetz Chaim with Shmiras Halashon. We are extremely fortunate that several dedicated people have developed a network to help Jews who are caught in this trap: GuardYourEyes.com. It’s one of my absolute favorite organizations and I have been involved with them in many ways since their founding (in 2007).
In my 40 years of psychiatric experience I can testify that traditional psychiatry and psychology are not effective on their own. GuardYourEyes provides a variety of anonymous tools, counseling and support for affected people, allowing thousands of Jews to get help. I get an average of five calls a week about this issue, and before GuardYourEyes was around I didn't have where to send people. Their success rate is phenomenal. I am personally aware of many, many people that have been saved.
The GuardYourEyes project is extremely important for Klal Yisrael today - it is truly a pikuach nefesh. Please open your hearts and give generously to help them continue their holy work. All of their services are free of charge and it's a great mitzvah to support them.
Right now, during the days of repentance, your support means more than ever.
May you be inscribed in the book of life.
Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski, MD
P.S. I would be happy to send an autographed copy of my new book "Teshuvah Through Recovery", which I wrote together with GuardYourEyes, to anyone who donates $500 or more.
Sunday, October 9, 2016
I CONFESS, I DID IT!!
Rabbi David Walk
For those of us of a certain age, that title describes how many of the old Perry Mason (1957-1966) crime shows ended. The real perpetrator would break down under the withering examination by the foxy defense attorney, who figured out the real criminal way before the rest of us did, and dumfounded the not as bright district attorney, Hamilton Burger (played by Willian Tallman, who famously recorded an anti-smoking ad, which was not aired until after his death from lung cancer). Oh, if only crime fighting were that easy. Those were confessions that we could understand, and even admire. Confronted with undeniable evidence, the offender would concede guilt. Do we feel the same way about the long lists of admission of guilt that we endure on Yom Kippur? I don't think so. We look at this inventory of dastardly deeds, and tend to deny any culpability on our part. So, the annual question returns: Why must I recite this litany of crimes year in and year out?
First of all, I must confess that I have trouble with this confession stuff each year. When I was younger, and even more immature than I am now (if you can believe that), I used to read the list of sins and try to decide which people in the congregation committed which of these crimes. So, there I was sinning simultaneously to confessing. That seems oddly efficient. However, as time went on, I starting thinking that the Sages produced this list to help us remember which terrible things we really did last year. I think they believed that this list was helpful, because it contained the most often transgressed mitzvoth. I think that it would be instructive to sit down before Yom Kippur and write our own list of more modern sins. I face-booked embarrassing things on purpose. I knowingly left my phone on ring during that speech. I knew that it was a handicap space. I gave out people's passwords. You get the idea.
Maimonides actually lists confessing as the essential mitzvah of teshuva (repentance). This is how he expressed this idea in Sefer HaMitzvot: The 73rd mitzvah is that we are commanded to verbally acknowledge the sins we have committed before God, when we come to do teshuvah
(repent). This is vidui (verbal confession), the idea of which is to…elaborate verbally and ask for atonement on this transgression with all the eloquence at his command. He further explains in Mishneh Torah: How does one confess: He states: 'I implore You, God, I sinned, I transgressed, I committed iniquity before You by doing the following. Behold, I regret and am embarrassed for my deeds. I promise never to repeat this act again.' These are the essential elements of the confessional prayer. Whoever confesses profusely and elaborates on these matters is worthy of praise (Hilchot Teshuva 1:1). So, it seems that confession is an integral part of teshuva. Why? Teshuva requires an entire personality makeover; confession, on the other hand, appears to be such a superficial act.
The Rav (Rabbi Joseph D. Soloveitchik, 1903-1993) was also concerned with this issue. He was convinced that Maimonides believed that teshuva was a critically important precept but that the prescribed action associated with this mitzvah was the vidui. He further explained: At this point the idea of teshuva emerges and conveys to man the message of catharsis. In what does this catharsis express itself? In the aptitude of man to take a critical look at himself and to admit failure, in the courage to confess, to plead guilty, in the readiness to accept defeat… To recite vidui is the greatest of all virtues, the most heroic act; it is catharsis par excellence (Catharsis, p. 54). To the Rav the recitation of vidui was the highest intellectual and spiritual act, because the sinner had completely understood the act and its deleterious effect. The exact verbalization of what went wrong demonstrates my understanding of what I did, and, then, a willingness to banish that behavior forever. Vidui works within my brain and psyche. What if vidui is working in a realm other than the intellect?
Reb Menachen Mendel of Vitebsk (1730-1788) was also concerned with this issue, and he wrote: The essential vitality of anything is the letters comprising it. Thus, if a person sins he relegates the letters that are the vitality (of that action) to (the realm of) evil, and thereby empowers evil. Therefore one who utters oral confession by saying 'I have sinned' with bitterness of heart out of his awe of God, along with his love of God, is actually bringing the vitalizing letters out of (the realm of) evil, such that evil is left without vitality, and ceases to exist." (Peri ha-Aretz, Beha'alotekha). According to this early Chasidic Master, sins exist because of the letters in the words which describe that act. Those acts and letters are real because we humans have been endowed with this power at the time of Creation. When God breathed life into Adam (Genesis 2:7); humanity was given the power of speech, which makes words and letters real entities when we verbalize them. This isn't magic. We have all felt the awesome power of words when we have been praised or (God forbid) denigrated.
The Rebbe is taking this powerful reality and claiming that we have the power to expunge these negative vibes, by confessing. Fire fights fire; words fight words.
Saying that I was wrong, that I know exactly what I did, and that I commit to never, ever doing it again, is a very powerful weapon. It can eliminate evil. But from where is this evil eliminated? The Rav says from me; Reb Menachem Mendel says from the universe. I don't know who's right, but both ideas are very attractive to me. They both express the very potent power that vidui can wield, if used sincerely. So, this year, let's not read those lists cynically. Let's use those moments to feel the scrutiny of our conscience, and feel the catharsis of declaring, 'It was me! I did it!' And then never do it, again.
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