On the Profound Significance of Tsfat to Our Generation
On December 10, 2005, during Chanukah, hundreds of people gathered in lower Manhattan at the Museum of Jewish Heritage—A Living Memorial to the Holocaust. A dinner was held honoring the Holy City of Tsfat. The themes of the evening were renewal in a post-Holocaust era, the magic of Tsfat and Rebbe Nachman of Breslev. Rav Moshe Weinberger of Congregation Aish Kodesh in Woodmere, New York, addressed an extraordinarily diverse crowd on the profound significance of Tsfat to our generation.
It is hard for me to describe the feelings and emotions of this evening. I am thinking back ten years ago to the first gathering [for Tsfat] that we had in Brooklyn, held in a room filled with approximately the same number of people, different groups, different types, but all chassidim. Tonight, I can’t help but think and wonder about the great strength of both Rebbe Nachman, may his merit protect us, and the Holy City of Tsfat, and how they have somehow miraculously drawn Jews of such diverse backgrounds together to this place.
Rebbe Nachman once said that in the world, stories are told to put children to sleep, but [Breslever chassidim] tell stories to keep children awake. In the introduction to Likutey Moharan, Rebbe Nachman speaks about the great Tanna, Rebbe Shimon bar Yochai. He quotes the verse in Aramaic from the book of Daniel, Ir V’kadish Min Shemaya Nachit ….[an angel, a holy one, descended from heaven] which literally means “the one who is awake and was sent into this world from heaven.” I believe the connection between the magical city of Tsfat and Rebbe Nachman has created an awakening in our generation. What brings us all here from different places is the miracle of Rebbe Nachman’s message.
I understand that there are guests of honor and many of you have come to honor them, but I don’t believe for a moment that is why we are here. We are here because Rebbe Nachman is pulling upon the chord strings of our hearts to come. We are all here to give honor to that tzaddik whom G-d Himself sent here into the world when it was falling asleep. He sent him into the world to wake us up.
I want to share with you something very remarkable. Rebbe Nachman describes a mysterious field where wondrous trees and plants grow. It is also where holy souls, neshamos, develop. And yet, he writes, “There are many many naked souls who are bare and wandering, unable to make their way into the field. They are waiting and longing for someone to come along and repair their souls, so they can return to their place.” Who is the person who has the power to do this? Rebbe Nachman explains in this lesson that there is a “master of the field”. This master of the field has wondrous eyes and when the eyes of the master of the field are illuminated, he is able to see great visions beyond the gates of that mysterious field, to those souls wandering and waiting for a tikkun, waiting for someone to bring them back. Rebbe Nachman says there are two types of fields in the world. There is the field of visionaries and the field of weepers; a field where people are crying and weeping, and the field of the tzaddik—the master of the field.
The city of Tsfat is the field of visionaries for our generation. It is the field of dreams, the field of vision, the field where Jews look beyond the confines of the four cubits of their little lives and dream of something greater and bigger. It is to that field, that the master of the field, the tzaddik, has mysteriously taken us. He draws us to that place.
That is why we are here. Some of you are wondering, “What am I doing here listening to some guy with a fur hat screaming at me? What’s going on? I was friends with this guy and he asked me to come to this dinner honoring Tsfat. Tsfat is a nice place, it seems like a charming little city, but I didn’t know that there was anything so miraculous or great happening there…”
The truth is, our generation is filled with tears. We are naked souls trying to get back into that authentic world of Rebbe Nachman. So why is it, that ten years ago, I addressed a chassidic gathering, but now we are sitting here in Manhattan and it is not a chassidic gathering? It is a gathering of all different types of friends from different backgrounds. You know why? It is because we are approaching Chanukah and Chanukah is the celebration of that one jar of undefiled pure oil. Everybody in the world is looking for something authentic. We’re sick of cynicism, we’re sick of sarcasm. We’re sick of hypocrisy and phoniness. Everyone is looking for that pure jar of oil, unaffected by the outside world. Therefore, the city of Tsfat, the field of the visionaries, as well as the visionary of all visionaries, Rebbe Nachman, calls to each one of us who haven’t forgotten the authentic drop of oil that enlivens each and every one of our souls and calls us to come back to HaShem, to return to the Master of all, the Master of the world, Hashem Himself.
I want to conclude with a little story. There was a great rebbe, Reb Yaakov from Isbitz. He was known as the “Beis Yaakov.” This rebbe, the Beis Yaakov, was a huge scholar who for over twenty years, gave a very deep lesson in the gemara. He gave the lesson every single night from midnight until 4:00 in the morning for over two decades. Someone who described what it was like said it was unforgettable. “It was the deepest lesson and I was one of the few people privileged to attend. I don’t remember all of the lessons, but I’ll tell you one thing I remember. Exactly at midnight, the rebbe would walk in. On one side of the rebbe, there was a person holding the gemara, and on the other side, there was another person holding a candle. When the lesson was over, he gave a kiss to the gemara. It is that kiss I remember. It is the kiss that keeps me alive and pushes me on despite all my difficulties to be a Jew.”
Rebbe Nachman gave a kiss to our people. Those who haven’t learned, those who haven’t heard—learn, listen, and hear. You will then understand that the second you walk into Tsfat, you’ll feel the embrace of his love, you’ll feel the kiss the Beis Yaakov gave to the Gemara that can’t be described in words, because it is beyond words.
The soul of a Jew is filled with a yearning for G-d. That’s why we’re here. We yearn for G-d. We yearn for His people, we yearn for His holy city of Tsfat and we yearn to connect once again to that pure undefiled jar of oil inside each and every one of us. May HaShem bless the Jewish people. May we all merit not just to talk about Tsfat and see films of Tsfat, but to go together with all of our dear friends and chaverim to reclaim the land and bring our people back to the Holy City of Tsfat and Jerusalem, to the complete redemption and the beis hamikdash, speedily in our days, Amen. ♦
1. The first letters of these words spell “Shimon” alluding to Rebbe Shimon bar Yochai, with whom Rebbe Nachman shares a profound soul connection.
2. Likutey Moharan 65
3. From the book he authored, called “Beis Yaakov.”
At the end of exile, close to the time of our redemption, Israel’s troubles will greatly strengthen and intensify. Because of the tremendous travail that will surround them from every side, they will say, “Let the mountains and hills fall on us to hide us.” Their straits will become so dire that fathers will abandon their sons. Anyone who survives this period will be considered a triumphant warrior.
This will all come about since the Shechina will judge her house, Israel, and their adherence to sexual morality, in order to purify them for the Final Redemption and the good promised by the prophets. This good is utterly incomprehensible to the human intellect. The miracles and wonders of the redemption from Egypt will not be remembered in comparison to the final redemption. As it is written, “The days are coming,” says the L-rd, “when it will no longer be said, ‘As the L-rd lives, who brought the children of Israel up out of Egypt,’ but instead it will be said, ‘As the L-rd lives, who brought the Israelites up out of the land of the north and out of all the countries where He had banished them.’ For I will restore them to the land I gave to their ancestors.” (Jer. 16:14-15).
At the time of the Final Redemption the miracles and revelation of the Shechina to Israel will be wondrous. All who are worthy will exclaim, “Here is HaShem; we hoped for Him!” (Isa. 25:9). They will literally point their finger at the revelation of the Shechina. Who will actually merit this?!
Therefore, during this same time, troubles will increase to refine Israel according to strict judgment. Every single person will regret according to their debt, and anyone who stiffens their neck and refuses to return will be lost. Whoever will return in teshuva, and welcomes and accepts the difficulties gladly, will be purified and made worthy.
The entire matter rests on the fact that the time will have arrived for the klipot (“husks,” forces of evil) to be nullified in the world. However, as long as their wickedness clings to Israel, how is it possible to nullify these “external forces”? The L-rd is the Master of Judgment, meting out a righteous and faithful justice, with no perversion. Therefore, Israel will undergo repeated purging and refining until they are clean and pure as refined silver. This divine process will be administered with strict judgment, since the klipa will demand any portion owed to it.
In these final days, nations will fight each other, each one’s sword against its neighbor, and Israel will be caught in between, with tremendous suffering. Each nation will desire to plunder this “sheep” and consume her flesh. However, the Holy One will take compassion on His people in the merit of the three holy forefathers [Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov], and their suffering will refine and whiten them. During this time of judgment, the Holy One will overthrow the seed of Amalek, cut it off from the world, and ‘erase him from under the heavens.’ ♦
Translated and adapted from Elima Rabbati by the RaMaK, Rabbi Moshe Cordovero (1522-1570), one of the greatest kabbalists prior to the arrival of the holy Arizal in Tsfat. In this profound mystical work, the RaMaK mentions the need to accept difficulties in life with love, particularly during the generations close to the coming of Mashiach.
BIRTH AND DEATH, one day flows into the next. Souls are brought into the world while others depart. The generation of the Arizal was no different in this regard. Yet, every few centuries or so, heaven sends down a great soul for the betterment and tikkun of the creation—a caliber of tzaddik who holds the root of all other souls. This was the characteristic that distinguished the soul of Moses, and is the power held by any tzaddik on this same redemptive level. Human beings they are, not gods. But each is endowed with the same noble mission: to bring more goodness and healing into a world begging for ultimate repair.
THE ARIZAL WAS A TZADDIK ON THIS LEVEL. He came quietly into the world and departed a short 38 years later, leaving his mark to forever change the world. His parents lived in Jerusalem. His father Shlomo, was a wholehearted, simple, and upright individual who feared heaven and avoided evil. One day, while alone in the synagogue praying and pleading to HaShem, Elijah the prophet appeared to him and said, “I was sent from heaven to inform you that your wife will conceive and bear a son, and you should call him ‘Yitzchak’. He will save the souls of Israel from the hand of the klipot and repair souls reincarnated many times while waiting for their tikkun. Through him, knowledge of the kabbalah will be revealed; he’ll know every wisdom in the world, and his name will be famous far and wide.” Before Elijah disappeared, he cautioned, “Just be careful to wait for me to appear again on the eighth day before you circumcise him, since I will be the sandek.”
Shlomo wondered greatly about the vision and remained the rest of the day in the synagogue crying and praying to HaShem, “Please G-d, fulfill the words of Elijah. No misdeeds of mine should prevent this, since I am small and without merit. Do this for Your sake, not mine.”
He returned home that evening without revealing his secret. It thus happened and his wife conceived. Every day the pregnancy progressed, he would cry from joy. His wife carried to term and bore a son who filled their house with light. On the eighth day, as the community came together for the circumcision, Shlomo searched the crowd to no avail for the prophet Elijah. He began to suffer greatly while the guests began to pressure him to begin the circumcision without delay. He put them off, claiming that all of his relatives had not yet arrived. The situation continued for about a half an hour, as he anguished in his heart, until he let out a bitter cry, thinking to himself, “If the prophet Elijah has not come, it means that this is not the child he spoke about. Obviously my transgressions have prevented this good from happening.” In the midst of his weeping, Elijah appeared and called to him saying, “Don’t weep, I only tarried in order to test you as to whether or not you would honor my word.” He then joyfully sat on the sandek’s chair as the infant was placed on his knees to begin the circumcision. No one but the infant’s father, Shlomo, was aware of what had transpired. The child was then circumcised and given the name Yitzchak. He was returned to his mother and before they arrived back home, the circumcision had healed completely, much to their amazement.
After the child grew and was weaned, he went off to school where he stood apart from the other children in his level of learning. By the age of eight, like a seasoned scholar, he was a wellspring of halacha, and no one matched his sharpness. During this time, his father Shlomo passed away and his mother told him, “My son, I am now a widow with no ability to buy the books you need. So you must go down to Egypt to live with your uncle. You will be able to progress there since he is very wealthy and you won’t lack a thing. The boy said, “I am ready to do whatever you ask of me.” He then traveled to Egypt to live with his uncle, who received him with great honor and as his own son. In time, the boy’s extraordinary brilliance in learning and wisdom gained the attention of the famous sage, R’ Betzalel Ashkenazi, who contacted his uncle requesting that the boy become his student. Yitzchak studied with R’ Ashkenazi until he was fifteen years old, at which point his wisdom had already begun to impact on all the older and more established scholars in Egypt. Yitzchak soon married and continued to progress step by step in the service of G-d, attaining spectacular heights.
This was all preparation for his brief stay in Tsfat, where he and his followers concretized the highest spiritual levels into daily life, preparing a heavenly template to be accessed in the future by anyone willing to make the effort. ♦
Based on Shivchei HaAri (“Praises of the Arizal”), Chapter 1.
The Power of Yom Kippur & Ascending the Spiritual Ladder
Everyone has shortcomings and mistakes that require teshuva, the spiritual repair known as “repentance. The possibility of teshuva was granted to the world as a gift, and comes from profound Divine compassion. The way teshuva actually works is something that defies logic or human comprehension. Teshuva is also counted as one of the constant mitzvot that is incumbent upon everyone. King Solomon says, “For there is not a righteous man upon the earth who does good and does not sin.” (Eccles. 7:20)
Let’s say that a person completely breaks something belonging to another. According to halacha, in most cases, a replacement would need to be purchased, since the original is irreparable and lost. This is not the case with teshuva, which involves the ability to fix the actual thing broken in the first place.
According to the gemara, if one’s teshuva is based on fear of sin, then the deed is considered unintentional. However, if one does teshuva and returns out of love, the misdeed itself is transformed into merit, and actually counted as a mitzvah. How is this possible?
The possibility of such a transformation comes from HaShem’s compassion on the world. Our sages identify the great potency of teshuva as coming from the fact that it preceded the creation of the world, when everything was good and perfect. If it would have come into existence after creation, it would have been irrelevant, since when something is broken beyond repair, that should be it. Yet, regarding the damage caused by our actions, HaShem preceded the illness with the cure. He created a world dependent upon teshuva, since there is “not a righteous man upon the earth who does good and does not sin.” In order for the world to function, teshuva needed to predate creation so that the moment a person damages or destroys something, a remedy is already waiting.
TESHUVA AND YOM KIPPUR
There is also one day of the year when HaShem repairs the past and purifies us, erasing all that is undesirable. The essence of the day itself atones not only for many intentional sins, but even for certain things done by someone who is completely unaware it is Yom Kippur and does not observe the day!
Yet, according to Rebbe Nachman, teshuva is ongoing. It is usually understood that when you know you did something wrong, as long as you take upon yourself not to repeat it, the issue is considered closed. However, Rebbe Nachman explains that teshuva is not a one-time event. An even higher level of teshuva is required, despite the fact we already did teshuva on a particular action. We need to return to it again and repent on yet another level.
On Yom Kippur, there is a special mitzvah to confess, and there are ten different times we confess wrongdoing in the order of the day’s prayers. According to Jewish law, we not only verbally confess transgressions of the current year, but from the previous year as well, despite the fact that we already repented last year on Yom Kippur. This Yom Kippur there is still a mitzvah to do teshuva again by confessing anew everything that happened in the past.
Why do we have to dig up the past and confess all over again, particularly when we already did teshuva for it? Rebbe Nachman explains that when you verbally admit, “I sinned, I transgressed,” etc., it is very difficult to say these words with a completely pure heart. In other words, teshuva must be done on our first teshuva, when our hearts were less pure.
This is alluded to in the verse, “They honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from Me.” (Isa. 29:13) When you admit your wrongdoing and take upon yourself to be better, you become worthy of kavod HaShem, [a level where you are encompassed in the honor of HaShem]. Kavod HaShem is attained through nullifying your ego and being concerned solely for the honor of heaven. When teshuva is done from this place, honor is “restored” to HaShem.
Still, the rest of the verse says, “…their hearts are far from Me.” Even when you already did teshuva, repentance is still necessary for your previous teshuva, since it was done only according to your understanding of HaShem’s greatness at the time. When you ascend to a higher level afterwards, your mind becomes more purified, and you comprehend HaShem’s greatness at a completely different level. Even if you initially understood that HaShem is extremely great, your conception was still limited, since if you had understood at a higher level, you wouldn’t have transgressed in the first place. Relative to your current more spiritual level, your previous understanding is now considered “physical” because it limited the greatness of HaShem in your heart and mind.
To illustrate, say an ordinary person is sitting in synagogue and someone passes by and unintentionally trips over him. The one who tripped immediately says, “I’m so sorry! It was an accident!” Contrast this with another scenario. Instead of an ordinary person, this time he accidentally trips over an important person so forcefully that that person falls off his chair. Now, a completely different level of apology is needed, since not only is it a more distinguished person, but the force of the blow is much stronger than in the previous example.
This is similar to our situation with HaShem. To the extent we realize His greatness, we understand that every transgression has a much deeper impact than initially thought. Likewise with our example, the level of requesting forgiveness is much different between the insult of an ordinary person, or someone who is greater. Likewise, the more you understand the greatness of HaShem, the more you understand how even a seemingly small thing is an insult to His honor. The request for pardon must be commensurate with our current level of understanding. As we progressively raise ourselves up, we will experience an increased understanding of the enormity of our misdeeds. They now will require a new teshuva, demanding more of our heart and mind.
Teshuva becomes even more subtle the higher you ascend spiritually, since it will begin to involve the thought process itself. A level can be reached where the teshuva is not so much on the transgression anymore, as our actual thought and misconception that HaShem is limited in some way. We may intellectually understand the idea that HaShem’s greatness is unlimited, but our hearts are not yet sufficiently purified to feel it. We may say the words by rote, as described in the verse, “With their lips they honor Me,” but our heart doesn’t comprehend the true meaning of G-d’s limitless nature, thus, “…they are far from Me.” To the extent we are unable to understand the infinity of the Divine, we are in effect placing a limitation on the honor of HaShem in our hearts and minds. This is what requires teshuva. For this reason, according to Rebbe Nachman, in order to progress step by step up the spiritual ladder, one must constantly hold onto the attribute of teshuva.
SHABBAT AND TESHUVA
The entire dynamic of teshuva is intrinsically connected to the world to come, when it will be completely Shabbat—all teshuva. The connection between Shabbat and teshuva is alluded to in the verse, “…and you shall return to the Lord your G-d…” (Deut. 30:2) “You shall return” is v’shavta, the same Hebrew letters as the word, “Shabbat.” When will this return happen? It will occur in olam haba, the world to come, when it will be only Shabbat. Olam haba is defined as a progressive attainment of knowledge of HaShem, where each of us will perceive HaShem at our own level. And then, every time you come to a greater level of understanding, teshuva will be required on your previously more limited understanding. The nature of olam haba is the continual attainment of a greater understanding of HaShem. We will then fulfill the verse, “…and you shall return to the Lord your G-d.” Shabbat and teshuva will be one.
The profound connection between Shabbat and teshuva is quite relevant today. We rest on Shabbat, but what is our true purpose on this holy day? Any thoughts of our own wrongdoing must be brought to a state of rest so there will not be even a hint of improper deed or a damaged world on Shabbat. However, while Shabbat is a time of teshuva, it is not a time of confession. It is a time for spiritual ascent and elevation. So how is teshuva done without confessing? On Shabbat, teshuva is based on understanding rather than confession; it is accomplished when you come to a higher understanding of the greatness of HaShem and then do teshuva on your previous understanding. This is what will define our olam haba, but we can also attain this now on Shabbat. Such is the power of Shabbat, and this opportunity recurs every seven days.
TESHUVA AND HAPPINESS
Generally, when a person senses the seriousness of their situation after doing something wrong, teshuva is done with a broken heart. But there is another aspect to teshuva not commonly discussed. We witness on Yom Kippur how some people appear sad and may even weep in their efforts to do teshuva. They find it difficult to greet others during the course of the day, since they think it will detract from the seriousness of the holy day. However, truthfully, Yom Kippur should be the happiest day of the year, since it is a day of total forgiveness. We confess, and HaShem forgives and erases all of our undesirable deeds. We can dance from joy the entire day that such a thing is occurring. This positive attitude should also be conveyed at home to our families every year. Who needs to eat on such a day? We are like people in olam haba who have no need to eat or drink. This joyful attitude has practical relevance as to how to experience Shabbat as well, since teshuva and Shabbat are deeply connected.
RUNNING & RETURNING
Rebbe Nachman gives further definition to teshuva. When you want to embark on the path of teshuva, you need to be expert in the “going.” Two types of expertise are needed here: One in the running (ratzo) and one in the return (shov). This concept is alluded to in the vision of the prophet Ezekiel [1:14] where he describes how the angels were “running and returning,” as they served and praised HaShem.
The same concept applies to us. In the evening prayer, we say the blessing of hashkiveinu, where we ask, “…and remove the satan from before us and from behind us.” Sometimes when you begin something new in your quest for holiness, you experience such great enthusiasm together with expectations far beyond your actual capabilities. This is merely another strategy of the yetzer hara to set you up for a big fall when you don’t meet your unrealistic expectations. This is what is referred to in the verse, “Remove the satan from before us and from after us.” “Before us”—before we charge ahead to accomplish our goal. “Behind us”—afterwards when we fail to meet our expectations, and everything comes tumbling down where we are unable to do the things even within our power. A person needs tremendous Divine compassion at this point.
Failure to achieve a desired result after unrealistic expectations (or even realistic ones), should be your signal to guard yourself against becoming weak or falling. When you start something with good intentions and desires, be happy with whatever you accomplish; don’t fall into frustration or despair. It helps to know this in advance, when you are “running.” Then afterwards, during the return, you will be able to protect yourself from falling into a low place, and you’ll be able to renew your strength once again. If it didn’t go this time, so try again with more realistic expectations.
KING DAVID ON RUNNING & RETURNING
There is yet another aspect to the concept of “running and returning.” Rebbe Nachman explains that it is a zechut when you are able to both enter and exit an endeavor in the right way. King David describes running and returning in the verse, “If I ascend to the heavens, You are there; if I go down to the depths, You are there.” (Psa. 139:8)
The first section of the verse refers to when you undergo a spiritual ascent and feel as if you were in heaven, close to HaShem. This can happen after teshuva or when you see how much HaShem helped you beyond your wildest expectations. Yet King David sharpens the idea further as if to say, “Listen well, if you go to heaven, You are there.” There meaning not here. In other words, HaShem is still far from you. You need to come yet closer to HaShem, since He is “over there,” far away, so don’t bask in the feeling that you have already arrived at the ultimate level. Even if you ascend to heaven, know that it is still far from you. Strengthen yourself and your good aspirations to strive even higher, since you haven’t yet “made it.” There is still much more work ahead to come closer to HaShem.
The second part of the verse refers to when you experience a fall so great that you feel as though you’ve fallen into a pit—into sheol—a place much deeper in the earth from where people normally walk. You can become saddened even without a specific reason. The yetzer hara works overtime to give you a feeling of worthlessness. He can convince you that you’ve completely fallen into the lowest of depths, with no ability to pick yourself up. King David writes that this is where HaShem says, “Here I am. I am here in the deepest pit together with you. Let’s ascend together.”
You can say, “Ribono shel Olam! I made a mistake, but You are here with me wherever I have fallen. I want to raise myself up.” HaShem will immediately give you the strength to ascend. You can feel HaShem in this way, and derive strength to get up again. This is the way of teshuva.
Don’t let the temptations of the yetzer hara drag you into feelings of worthlessness and despair. The yetzer hara will give you a good feeling at first, only to trip you up later by making you feel like nothing, draining you of the strength to stand up. Rampant thoughts fill your mind: “You really messed up this time. Don’t you know yourself already? You’ll never change, so who do you think you are to try to get up again…” Don’t become overly emotional or despair out of proportion, since if despair doesn’t exist, according to Rebbe Nachman, then it doesn’t exist regarding any fall or failure.
Now it can be understood why expertise in “running and returning” is needed. Progress must be made step by step. While you are running and ascending, appeal for Divine compassion that you shouldn’t fall, but if you do, that you have the strength to get up immediately again and again. This is the wondrous expertise that Rebbe Nachman is teaching us.
The secret of teshuva was created before the creation of the world out of Divine compassion. Because of this, we have the ability to strive continually to come closer to HaShem. Know that HaShem is always waiting for our teshuva.
Hashem should help each of us to return in teshuva shleima. We should merit to feel Hashem’s closeness throughout the entire year, and draw all good influences upon ourselves, the Jewish people, and the entire world. For this will be how we will bring the complete redemption and the beit hamikdash very soon, in our days. Amen. ♦
Translated and adapted from a talk given from Tsfat to a group in Sydney, Australia. Lesson based on Likutey Moharan 6.
WHEN A PERSON FACES A LIFE OR DEATH JUDGMENT, they customarily dress in black, neglect their physical appearance and let their hair and nails grow. They are terrified because the final outcome of the judgment against them is unknown.
This is in stark contrast to the behavior of the Jewish people on Rosh HaShanah, the “Great Day of Judgment.” They don white clothing, and cut their hair and nails in preparation for the day. When Rosh HaShanah arrives, they eat, drink, and rejoice in a festive manner, since they are confident that G-d will perform a miracle and they will emerge meritorious from judgment. What is their source of joy and confidence as they enter the Great Day of Judgment? Why are they so certain of a positive outcome?
The answer lies in the difference between the Jewish people and the rest of the world. Am Yisrael possesses an inherent quality of achdut, unity. They are completely unified at their spiritual root since the source of Am Yisrael is from the “world of achdut.”
On the other hand, the other nations are structured as separate worlds, since they draw from a spiritual root called the “world of separation.” Thus, it is the quality of achdut which defines the difference between the Jewish people and the other nations of the world.
It is written, “…all the soul(s) of the house of Jacob who came to Egypt were seventy.” (Gen. 46:27) We learn that Am Yisrael were seventy souls when they were exiled to Egypt. Yet, despite numbering seventy, the verse refers to them in the singular tense as nefesh—soul. In contrast, the people of Eisav numbered six and are referred to as plural, nefashot—souls. (Gen. 36:6) Even as seventy souls, the Jewish people are considered a single soul—nefesh, since they are rooted in the “world of achdut.” The other nations, however, are considered separate worlds even at six, since their spiritual source is rooted in the “world of separation.”
UNITY & THE JEWISH BOND
In addition to Torah and mitzvot observance, the Jewish people also took upon themselves the quality of achdut—unity. Each Jew serves as a guarantor for his or her neighbor, and this guarantee extends to the entire people, as well. It is understood that the mitzvot are binding upon a Jew, but how can we explain the obligation to be guarantors for one another? It can be understood when we realize that the source of the Jewish people is unity—a single unseparated root. This is true to the extent that the obligation falls not only on the individual for his or herself, but for everyone else as well, since what one Jew does influences every other Jew. This is a very subtle and spiritual issue, so it is worthwhile to be aware of it in the proper way, and important to understand its practical significance.
Despite its lofty spiritual nature, Jewish unity is clearly manifested here in olam hazeh—our lower physical world. To better understand this concept, it is known that everything in the physical world requires separate space. There are four levels of life: inanimate, plant, animal and human, which are connected to the four elements of earth, wind, fire, and water. The more physical something is, the more it manifests separateness. The opposite is true with things of a more spiritual nature. The more spiritually-oriented something is, it possesses a more unified nature. For instance, earth is a physical element that exhibits a stronger quality of separateness. Water, air and fire are elements more spiritual in nature, and thus more unified. Thus we witness the expression and interplay between spiritual unity and physical separateness even in the physical world.
A SPIRITUAL DISTINCTION
The achdut of Israel is spiritual, not physical. They are rooted in the very source of achdut. Furthermore, when the Jewish people are united, they are united with HaShem. This is referred to in the Sabbath afternoon prayer, “You are One and Your name is One; and who is like Your people Israel, one nation on earth.” As a result, the Jewish people are closer to each other, which is expressed in many ways. For example, whenever one Jew hears about another, regardless of where they are in the world, they will always feel a strong connection and concern. While it is true that everyone experiences a sense of individuality in the world, the Jewish people must nonetheless always remind themselves of their spiritual root in achdut. It is the fundamental difference between Jews and the other nations of the world, despite the fact that to outward appearances, everyone appears identical.
The denial of this difference is actually one of the biggest tragedies to befall the Jewish people. To our great sorrow, many have distanced themselves from the Torah and mitzvot, thinking it is better to imitate the non-Jewish manner of behavior or dress, etc., even participating in non-Jewish competitions as if there is no distinction between the two. The Jews are a single unit, a great and spiritual nation, with a completely different root than the rest of the world. After millennia of exile and tragedy, including the holocaust of the previous generation, time has proven they are different through the countless number of Jews bound to Torah and mitzvot today. This is the proof of their spiritual nature, since everything depends on its root. It is important to remind ourselves of this and not err by thinking there is no difference.
The source of our confidence on Rosh HaShanah comes from our spiritual root in achdut. Normally, when an individual faces a life and death judgment it is frightening since the final outcome is unknown. In the case of the Jewish people however, each individual is judged together as a whole because of their single root. Because of this, they face judgment on Rosh HaShanah with confidence and hope. They eat and drink festive meals and are joyous in the knowledge that G-d will perform a miracle for them.
ACHDUT ON ROSH HASHANAH
There is another aspect relevant to Jewish achdut. Halacha obligates everyone to make peace with his or her neighbor well before Rosh HaShanah, without waiting until Yom Kippur. Of course teshuva is necessary for any wrongdoing, but there is a specific obligation to repent of any misdeed committed against another person.
If the confidence of the Jewish people on Rosh Hashanah flows from their root in achdut, then the moment someone insults another in any way, it diminishes the ability to approach the Great Day of Judgment with the power of achdut. This is why is it so good that people make an extra effort to attend prayer services on Rosh HaShanah to show their unity and connection to HaShem.
The entire purpose of life is to accept the kingship of HaShem. Rosh HaShanah in particular is when we “crown” the Creator to show this acceptance. By living our lives according to the way He desires, we crown the Creator here in olam hazeh. The uniqueness of the Jewish people comes from their extremely elevated spiritual root of unity, and their ability to reveal it here in the physical world.
Although there is always free choice, we see how the Jewish people are prepared time and time again to give up their lives al kiddush hashem—to sanctify HaShem’s name. History has shown that this is not something restricted only to great tzaddikim. Even those far away from the Torah, when faced with certain death, chose to sanctify G-d’s name, rather than abandon their Jewishness. It is a wonder how a person who found it difficult to uphold the Torah was nonetheless willing to give up their life for it. Throughout history, when faced with difficult tests, or forced to participate in religious debates, Jews were prepared to forego the riches of the world to remain a Jew. Even when offered vast rewards by kings to convert, they didn’t consider it for a moment. It was incomprehensible to the other nations from where the Jews drew their strength to stand firm. This shows the lofty root of the Jewish people.
RELATIVES OF HASHEM
The gemara discusses the verse “Who is a great nation?” Mi goy gadol? (Deut. 4:7) The question is asked, who is this nation who knows the customs of their G-d? The Midrash explains that the Hebrew word gadol comes from the root g’dal, meaning “upbringing,” alluding to the Jewish people being “raised” by HaShem. As a consequence of their more “familial” relationship, they are familiar with the nature of HaShem, which gives them the confidence that He will perform a miracle on their behalf on Rosh HaShanah.
Because they share the same source of achdut, the Jewish people are considered “relatives” by HaShem. Yet, despite this, we are still put to the test here in a world of free choice as to whether we will consider ourselves like the other nations or draw down and reveal our intrinsic achdut in the world by observing the Torah and mitzvot—especially Shabbat. After six days of creation, HaShem rested on the seventh day, Shabbat. This is the same Shabbat that the Jewish people have observed throughout history.
May we be blessed with a renewed sense of achdut and clear sense of purpose in the world. And may we see the rebuilding of our Temple, speedily in our days, Amen. ♦
1. Likutey Halachot, Arev 3
2. See Likutey Moharan 27 and 52