Sunday, October 2, 2011

Give us life

Земледелец из еврейского колхоза «Биробиджанец». Украина, 1936. 
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On Rosh HaShanah we asked Hashem to give us life. During the Ten Days of Repentance and on Yom Kippur, we repeat the request.

But what does "life" mean? Of course, it refers to the physical life, health, sustenance, etc. But what about the spiritual life?

There is the famous story of a chossid of the Alter Rebbe to whom Alter Rebbe gave a blessing for a long life. The chossid responded: "But not a peasant's life." I don't think he meant that he was opposed to agriculture as an occupation. He meant that most peasants at his time were people whose lives were more like survival: they went to work, came home, ate, and went to sleep. There was no purpose, no visible grand design in their lives.

The chossid wanted a life filled with meaning.

In Judaism, something is alive when it is connected to eternity. When a potential for life leaves a woman, she becomes spiritually impure. In order to cleanse herself from the spiritual touch of death, she has to connect herself back to "life": to go to a mikveh, a reservoir of natural water. But halachically, a river that dries out even once every seven years is not fit for a mikveh. It is not a permanent, eternal river. Something which is alive for a finite period of time is considered to be really alive.

How do we become really alive? By connecting to the Source of Life; the only being, the only existence that is truly alive: Hashem.

So, we ask Hashem to give us this kind of life. We ask Hashem to help us be good Jews, help us connect to Him, so that are lives are meaningful and filled with purpose.

But then, don't we also ask for the material "life"? For health, children, success in our work? What is the connection between the two requests? First, one could say that whenever someone has health, money, and success, he does not worry about such things and as a result has a peace of mind to serve Hashem.

One can, however, go deeper. What does it mean that we serve Hashem? We don't do it by meditating in a monastery somewhere in the mountains, smelling incense, and eating dried figs. We serve Hashem by interacting with the world and doing mitzvos and learning Torah — in the world, not apart from it. (Otherwise, why would our souls descend into the world? Surely no secluded monastery in the mountains surrounded by bamboo forest is as "spiritual" as the spiritual worlds from which our souls descended.) We must create a Dwelling for Hashem specifically in the Lower Worlds — the ultimate purpose for which Hashem created the world.

So, really, it's not like we are asking for two different things: for material life and for spiritual life. We are asking that Hashem allows us to be His servants in the physical world by a) granting us the physical tools with which to serve him (money, health, professional success), b) by granting us the spiritual tools (ability to daven with proper concentration, to learn Torah at depth, be meticulous about the performance of mitzvos, etc.), and c) by helping us unite the two levels, making sure that they are not independent but complement and enhance each other, and that all our accomplishments in the physical are only l'shem Shomayim, for the sake of Heaven.

And of course, the ultimate level of this unification between the physical and the spiritual will be achieved when Moshiach comes and Hashem's Presence is revealed in this world.

So, may Hashem grant us life — real and full life — this year!


e said...

I believe the chossid was yekusiel lepler.

e said...