My last message was long and somber, so let me follow up with something shorter and, I hope, sweeter. People all over are feeling highly challenged on many levels, yet we will find strength when day by day we repeatedly affirm and re-affirm our EMUNAH: that God rules over all, God is good, and that ultimately everything, down to the tiniest detail, is only for good.
For me, the true “Northern Breeze” that inspires and gives me hope is the spirit — Ru’ach — of my Rebbe, Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, which emanates from all his teachings, and from his resting place in the town of Uman, Ukraine, some 3,000 kilometers north of Israel. At this very moment, tens of thousands of his devotees are flocking to Uman, despite the ongoing war, in order to celebrate Rosh Hashanah 5784 in the city where R’ Nachman chose to be buried when he left this life 213 years ago.
Owing to my compromised mobility I can no longer travel to Uman for Rosh Hashanah as I used to for many years. But with G-d’s help, I hope to join the Rosh Hashanah gathering of the Breslover Chassidim held annually here in the holy city of Jerusalem, where I am writing these words now.
For over 45 years since I first came upon Rebbe Nachman’s teachings, they have been the foundation for all my subsequent growth in Torah study and practice. It is because I rely entirely on his wisdom, the distilled essence of the entire Torah, that I am very sure of what I write.
The Rebbe specifically wanted his followers to gather together on Rosh Hashanah. Simply joining with many others who follow the same path gives great strength. Yet no matter where in the physical world we may be on Rosh Hashanah, we can always be “with” Rebbe Nachman. We can be “with” him whenever we keep his sayings and lessons in mind, particularly when we study and internalise key teachings with the intent of following through and implementing them in the coming year. I like to select one of the Rebbe’s major discourses in his masterwork, Likutey Moharan, for depth study during the holiday period.
Of special significance to me at present is his teaching in Likutey Moharan Part 1 Lesson 5, based on the statement of our sages: “Each person must say: The entire world was created only for my sake” (Talmud Bavli, Sanhedrin 37a). Rabbi Nachman explains:
“Consequently, because the world was created for my sake, I must constantly look into and consider ways of making the world better; to provide what is missing in the world and pray on its behalf.
This may seem quite daunting if we consider even a fraction of what is now developing in this runaway world. Yet we are not called to do any more than try our best to refine and elevate ourselves in God’s service, and to pray for the world.
All our prayers on Rosh Hashanah, as set down in the festival machzor, do indeed centre on the repair of the entire world, which will only be complete when all Creation knows that God alone is King.
Our God and God of our fathers: Rule over the entire world in Your glory, and be uplifted over all the earth with Your honor, and shine forth in the splendor of Your majestic might over all who dwell in the world, Your earth; so that everything that has been made will know that You have made it, and everything that has been formed will understand that You formed it, and all who have breath in their nostrils will say: “Adonay, the God of Yisrael, is King and His Kingship rules over all.” (From the central blessing of the Rosh Hashanah Amidah prayer)
On Rosh Hashanah we necessarily come before G-d with all our personal needs and requests for ourselves and our dear ones. We pray for LIFE, not only for physical life of hours, days and years, but for the vital life of the soul and spirit in the light of God and His Torah.
More than asking what God can do for us, let us ask sincerely: What can we do for God? How can we find favor in His eyes not as grudgingly obedient servants but as loving, devoted sons and daughters for whom even the tiniest act of service is never too small to perform with joy in order to delight our Father in Heaven.
As ministering priests of the Supreme, let us daily sanctify His holy Name even in the very face of the challenges around us, following in the footsteps of the righteous of all the generations, Noah, Abraham, David, Daniel, unfazed by opposition, loyal at all times to God’s Torah and His commandments — charity, kindness, justice and righteousness. When we say: “I am God’s… call on the name of Jacob, sign our hand to God and adopt the name of Israel” (Isaiah 44:5), we are His ambassadors. At any time, in any situation, we are on display to others and we sanctify His name through exemplary conduct. Let us show how much better life can be in the family, community and the wider society when truly governed by His compassionate Law, as opposed to the hell of irreverence, immorality, corruption, rampant crime and violence that have spread across the wider, godless world around us.
“It is not your duty to finish the work, but neither are you at liberty to neglect it…Faithful is your employer to pay you the reward of your labor. And know that the reward of the righteous is given in time to come. (Avot 2:16)
The God of Hosts has numberless legions of ministering servants to carry out His will. The honor is ours when we volunteer to serve Him with all our hearts. Each and every one of us is obliged only to endeavor to fulfil our own unique mission in the realm in which He has put us – like the humble bee that goes from flower to flower sucking the nectar and pollinating the flowers without any awareness of her crucial role in the overall food cycle. Or like the leaf that plays its own tiny yet essential part in nourishing the tree, until its time comes to drop off and fall to the ground to be reabsorbed into the earth.
God had His own inscrutable reason for creating each and every one of us and putting us in the unique family, socio-economic and cultural matrices in which we find ourselves. It is our joyous embrace of our mission in the very place where we are that is our strength, “For the joy of HaShem is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10 referring to the joy of Rosh Hashanah).
The unique mission each of us has in this world is fulfilled through the indestructible “good point” within each and every one of the souls of Israel. This divine “spark” is the bubbling wellspring of vitality that God gives us unstintingly, moment by moment, all the days of our lives. This “good point” is the messianic growth point within us. When we develop our divine potential, each in our own unique way in accordance with the Torah and the teachings of the Tzaddik, we actualise this Mashiach within us, bringing the final revelation of Melekh Mashiach ever closer.
We find in Tanna d’vei Eliyahu (teachings in the name of Elijah the prophet), that prior to the Exodus from Egypt, the Children of Israel had no merit in virtue of which they could be redeemed. Except that the Holy One, blessed-be-He, saw something that no human could see from people’s exterior appearance. For He saw into the hearts of each and every Israelite, and He saw that amidst all the pain of exile, each one made a simple, inner decision: “I care about my fellows”. It was in the merit of this simple, heartfelt acceptance of responsibility within each one, that He brought about the Redemption.
It’s as simple as that: “I care.” About our people. About this tormented world. About the pain of the Shekhinah, God’s Indwelling Presence, His honour, trampled and sullied in this faithless world. If the complete repair is way beyond my power, at the very least I can pray to the One who has all the power, and beg for His salvation.
God “wants” our prayers because in His endless, infinite love and kindness, He wants us to “know” Him, to know and experience His goodness on every level of our being, to know that He is intimately involved in every detail of our lives. When we put our deepest longings and yearnings into the words of our prayers and “send them” to Him through the intent in our mind as we bring them forth from our lips, our thoughts and words imprint on our consciousness the awareness that God is the one and only source of everything in our lives.
Let us hear the tones of the Rosh Hashanah Shofar as our cries of yearning to God from the depths of our hearts, yearnings that we cannot put into words, for “their heart cried out” (Eichah 2:18). As the tones of the Shofar sound, let the desires in our hearts send the notes upwards to Heaven to bring down favor from before His throne of glory.
As we taste the apple and honey at the first meal of the New Year 5784, let us send our thoughts and yearnings upwards for a truly sweet, good, blessed, happy New Year for ourselves, our dear ones, for all the House of Israel and for all the world. Amen.