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Compendium of Rosh HaShana Articles

1.  The Power of Connection (Jewish Tradition)

Shabbat is about the power of connection. It holds our lives together. It connects us with Hashem and holds our families together. Its rhythm unites Jewish communities around the world; we all read the same parsha together and there a universal structure of the week, which holds the Jewish people together, and creates a wonderful, warm, loving atmosphere at the centre of our lives.

The entire system of Judaism, says Rav Shlomo Wolbe, can be crystalized into one overarching principle: olam hayedidut – “the world of loving friendship”, between us and G-d, between us and our fellow human beings and between us and ourselves. This description applies to all of Judaism. As we know, a major portion of the Torah’s commandments are mitzvot bein adam lachaveiro, between a person and another; this is olam hayedidut, a world of loving friendship, between people. Another major portion of mitzvot are those bein adam laMakom, the responsibilities that we have towards G-d; a world of loving friendship – between us and Hashem.

When G-d gives us commandments He is not instructing us as a legislator imposing laws upon his submissive and fearful subjects. Rather, He is like a loving parent who instructs and guides out of care and concern, to give us, His children, the best opportunity to live the best life possible. When we keep His mitzvot, it is within the context of this world of loving friendship. Just as we do things for people we love – a husband for a wife and a wife for a husband, parents for children and children for parents – so too, says Rav Wolbe, we keep the mitzvot in the context of our relationship with G-d, in the world of loving friendship.   

Rav Wolbe says that Shabbat in particular is about yedidut; it is a day of loving friendship, as we say this in one of the zemirot sung, Ma yedidut menuchatech,How beloved is your rest.”  It is a day to step out of the pressures of the week and reconnect with ourselves, with family and with Hashem. By relieving us of all the work that burdens us during the week, we are free to focus on our most important relationships. Throughout the week we are so busy doing and achieving that we don’t have a chance just to “be” and to connect with those whom we love. On Shabbat we take a break from the rough and tumble of life and reconnect with Hashem and His Torah – our inspiring spiritual heritage.

These ideas are captured perfectly in the words of the siddur, which describes Shabbat as “a rest of love and generosity … peace and tranquillity, calm and trust.” The essence of Shabbat is love and generosity, harmony and unity. It brings people together in a social sense but also in a spiritual, existential sense as it strengthens our relationships to each other and to G-d, the connections which define our very essence.

As we prepare for the “days of awe”, judgement and repentance, let us as a community to embrace and pledge our commitment to “The Shabbat Project” which is so beautifully set out in the rest of this publication. In the great merit of us doing so with full hearts, may Hashem inscribe us all for a good and sweet year filled with His blessings.

2.  The ”New Face” of Shabbos (Jewish Life)

At a wedding, under the chupah and then at the reception afterwards, we recite the famous ‘sheva berachot’ – the seven blessings of praise and thanksgiving to G-d for creating marriage, family and love.  We repeat these blessings at each festive meal held throughout the week following the wedding, fittingly known as the week of sheva berachot.

The halacha requires that during the week of sheva berachot we only say the seven blessings if we have panim chadashot, literally “a new face,” meaning that there is someone present at the meal who did not attend the wedding. Because the blessings have already been said at the wedding, the only justification to repeat them is when there  is someone new present to share in and add to the joy of the newly-weds. Interestingly, Shabbat is an exception to this rule; on Shabbat we do not need panim chadashot for the sheva berachot because Shabbat itself brings to the occasion the dimension of “a new face.” What “new face” does Shabbat bring to the occasion?

Hashem began the giving of the Torah with The Ten Commandments – in Hebrew, the Aseret HaDibrot, literally “the ten statements”. There is another set of “ten statements” – the ten statements with which G-d created the world. Pirkei Avot (5:1) states, Ba’asara ma’amarot nivra ha’olam, “The world was created with ten statements.” G-d created everything in the world through words. If you look in the first chapter of Genesis, you will find G-d made ten statements (such as “let there be light”) through which the whole world was created.

Rav Yitzchak Hutner, one of our great rabbinic thinkers of the twentieth century, explains that it is not coincidental that both the initial commandments received at Mount Sinai and the statements with which G-d created the world number ten. Indeed, there is a very important link between them: the one is the purpose of the other. The ten statements with which the world was created actually paved the way for the Ten Commandments. The world was created so that it could be an arena for the service of G-d, so that the values and mitzvot of the Torah could find expression in a physical world.

This link between the ten statements and the Ten Commandments reflects the deeper, hidden reality of the world. One could look at the world, see it in purely physical terms,  and actually miss the very purpose for which it was created. The physical aspects of the world seem dominant and independent of G-d. This is illusory, but because the physical world is so obvious and real, some people sever it from G-d, its Creator, and disconnect human life from its moral purpose which is fulfilled through living in accordance with Hashem’s will as revealed through His mitzvot. The physical world often masks the spiritual and moral world. Our task, then, is to see past the physical and discover the hidden, spiritual reality of the world, to reveal the underlying Divine purpose of the physical creation. How do we accomplish this?

This, says Rav Hutner, is what Shabbos is about. On Shabbos, the ten statements with which the world was created give up their dominance; G-d stopped creating so the ten statements could recede. By minimizing physical creative forces, we are able to see what the real purpose of Creation is. By way of analogy, we intuitively block out background noise when we are trying to hear what someone is saying; we need the noise level to drop in order to concentrate. Often the noise of human creativity and every-day business is so loud that it drowns out who we are and what our ultimate purpose is.  The cacophony of life must recede so that we can actually discern our true purpose in the world. And so G-d created Shabbos, the one day a week when the noise fades. He stopped creating and we, too, cease from physically creating; hence we refrain from doing melacha, the thirty-nine categories of work forbidden on Shabbos. Melacha is concerned with human creativity controlling nature; on Shabbos all of that creativity ceases. The world quietens. Once the noise and distraction disappear, the hidden, spiritual reality of the world emerges for us.

This spiritual reality is most visible on the human face. The human being, like the world, is a physical being. Yet we know that each person has a spiritual reality, and that is the neshama. The neshama is buried deep within a person, but we get a glimpse of it through their facial glow. The neshama shines from the face, and this is why when a person dies, their face becomes ashen. Anyone who has seen a dead body can tell you that the departed’s face turns pallid the moment the neshama, leaves the body. The glow of life is unique to human beings. Animals have a life force, but they don’t have a neshama, reflected in the glow of the human face. 

Shabbos connects to that glow on the face. In the beginning of the book of Genesis we read about how G-d sanctified Shabbat. The Midrash comments that G-d sanctified it with Maor panav shel adam, “the shining face of man.” On Shabbat the world goes quiet because every-day freneticism and physical creativity abate, thus allowing for a person’s true reality – the soul – to come to the fore. The body of the world is the ten statements with which it was created, but the world’s “soul” is G-d’s word, as expressed in the Ten Commandments. Similarly, the body is the physical aspect of a person whilst the soul is the spiritual dimension which G-d has placed within each of us; on Shabbat that shines through. A person becomes truly human on Shabbat. During the week we are so busy, distracted by, and caught up in the noisiness of the world, that the true essence of who we are, is often smothered. But, on Shabbat as we put aside the frantic activity of the week. the neshama can shine.

Rav Hutner explains that this is why Shabbat is called panim chadashot; a “new face.”  During the week of sheva berachot we need to have someone new at the meal. But on Shabbat the world is renewed and every person is created anew; therefore even if there are no new people at the sheva berachot meal, we can still say the seven blessings because on Shabbat everyone becomes a new person, everyone has  a “new face”; indeed it changes the world. It enables our true selves and the true reality of the world to shine forth in all its glory.

This insight into the importance of Shabbat is particularly relevant in today’s times. During the week we often become busy and disconnected from those around us and from Hashem and His values to the extent that we lose touch with who we are and what the purpose of life is; we can lose our sense of direction. We lose touch with our neshama, our true essence, with our loved ones, with our community and with G-d. But then comes Shabbat, enabling us to find our sense of self, to look past the physical externalities and return to the inner reality of our souls and the world around us. It is the one day a week in which we can become ourselves again and reconnect with family, community and G-d. We realise again that a human being is not just a physical body; that we are so much more than the clothes we wear and the possessions we own. Within all the physical externality lies a soul, whose ultimate purpose it is to see past the physical world whilst striving to make it a better place by doing good deeds.

Certainly Shabbos brings with it physical rejuvenation through sleep and eating well, but more importantly, it brings too a deep and profound spiritual invigoration. This is why, as the Gemara teaches us, on Shabbos we get a neshama yeteira, an extra soul. The extra soul is a manifestation of the spiritual reality that comes to the fore on Shabbos. By reconnecting us with the true spiritual reality of ourselves and of the world, Shabbat uplifts us and renews our energy for the upcoming week, allowing us to emerge as new people, revived and ready to meet the challenges and opportunities of life.

As we prepare for the “days of awe”, judgement and repentance, let us as a community  embrace and pledge our commitment to “The Shabbos Project”. In the great merit of us doing so with full hearts, may Hashem inscribe all us all for a good and sweet year filled with His blessings. 

3.  The Energy of Creativity (Jewish Observer)

The seven-day week cycle is now universally accepted around the world. But it was not always so. There were times in history when societies tried other units of time for the week, for example ten days. Seven days is the only cycle of time which is not connected to a cycle of nature, such as a month which is based on the moon, or a year which is based on the sun. It is thus significant that the seven-day week, which comes from the Torah, is now adhered to world-wide.

The first six days of the week correspond to the six days of Creation; the seventh day – Shabbat – relates to G-d’s resting on the seventh day. By establishing a seven-day cycle, G-d teaches us to be creators like Him as we move within the same time-cycle with which He created the world.

Rav Tzadok HaKohen of Lublin says that the seven-day week symbolises our partnership with G-d in Creation. The Gemara (Shabbat 119b) says that when a person says Vayechulu – the first paragraph of the kiddush on Friday night - “it is as if he has become a partner with the Holy One, Blessed Be He, in Creation.” By saying these words in kiddush we declare that we are keeping Shabbat as a holy day because G-d created the world in six days and rested on the seventh. 

By operating within the same cycle that He used in the creation of the world, our role and status as His partners is manifest. We are called upon to become G-d’s partners in continuing the process of creating and improving this world.

Rav Tzadok says that the way we fulfil the mandate of being G-d’s partners in Creation is through the mitzvot. He cites the Mishnah (Pirkei Avot 1:2) which says, “The world stands on three things: Torah, avoda and gemilut chasadim” – Torah study, service of G-d (i.e. through prayer) and loving kindness. Rav Tzadok says that these three mitzvot represent major principles which impact on Judaism’s entire system: Torah study gives us the philosophical framework to understand G-d’s worldview; prayer refers to the emotional and spiritual connection to G-d; and the acts of loving kindness represent all of the practical, physical mitzvot. He discusses at length how these three pillars of the world encapsulate all of the 613 commandments and constitute our call to action to be G-d’s co-creators. The more mitzvot and good deeds that we do in this world, the more we elevate ourselves and the world around us.

Rabbi Yosef Dov Soloveitchik applies the idea of partnership with G-d more widely than Rav Tzadok. We know that the Torah is not merely a history book but an instruction manual for life. Given this, asks Rav Soloveitchik, why is the first chapter in Genesis seemingly void of any mitzot and guidelines on how to behave? The beginning of Genesis appears to be a history of the creation of the world. If, as the term Torah implies, it is a book of hora’a – a book of instruction and practical guidelines – what instructions are there in the events of Creation?

Rav Soloveitchik answers that, inherent in this chapter, is the mitzva to imitate G-d and become creators like Him. He mentions the specific commandment of vehalachta bidrachav, “you shall walk in His ways,” which the Gemara interprets primarily in the context of chesed, loving kindness: “Just as He is compassionate, so too shall you be compassionate; just as He visits the sick and comforts the mourners, so too shall you.” Rav Soloveitchik applies this principle of the Gemara to the area of creativity as well: G-d is a Creator and therefore each of us must be a creator like Him. G-d said, “Let there be light,” and so we have to bring light where there is darkness; He created a world, so too must we summon all our powers of creativity to advance civilisation – be it in medicine, engineering, technology or any other human endeavour. We must use our creativity and ingenuity to improve the world for the benefit of all humankind. In so doing, we imitate G-d; just as He is the Creator, we become creators as well.

This accords with what Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch says regarding the common denominator shared by all of the thirty-nine categories of work prohibited on Shabbat; he explains that they are all acts of creativity that impose human will on the physical world. For six days we do melacha and on the seventh day we rest. Six days we are creative like G-d, advancing civilisation, developing society and doing whatever is necessary to improve the world. But on Shabbat we cease from all of this, modelling ourselves on G-d, Who rested on the seventh day.

If our purpose is to be partners with G-d in Creation, what then, is the role of Shabbat? What is productive or creative about a day of rest? Conventional wisdom is that productivity entails tangible activity – making money or creating things that we can touch and feel. Yet by G-d creating Shabbat and the concept of rest on the seventh day, He taught us that creativity is not just what we produce physically but is also an internal, intangible process as well. On every day of the week, G-d made physical phenomena – the land, sea, animals, stars and everything else in the world; and although it seems that He did not create anything on the seventh day, He did in fact,, namely Shabbat and the concept of rest. Thus, Creation was completed on the seventh day even though nothing tangible was created. 

Unfortunately, in today’s materialistic society, many measure themselves only by concrete productivity. People think that unless they are producing something that can be touched, measured or priced, they are not being effective or constructive. There are two kinds of creativity, external and internal, and both are important. Productivity and creativity are neither defined nor measured by physical, tangible outcomes alone, but by internal, emotional, intellectual and spiritual processes that assist us in becoming better human beings.

Shabbat gives us the space and time free from the distractions, demands and pressures of daily life, so that we can develop who we are internally, and this is no less a creative process than our productivity during the week. When we desist from all physical creativity on Shabbat, we are then free to create a renewed spiritual and emotional identity, which imbues us with inspiration and peace of mind that comes with living a life of purpose. When we take time out on Shabbat to sit, sing and talk together as a family our most precious relationships are nurtured, and we draw the comfort and emotional well-being which comes from these loving bonds. When we learn Torah together, and pray with our communities on Shabbat we are enriched and inspired by connecting to Hashem and to our awesome spiritual heritage. All of this is a different kind of creativity, and offers us all the opportunity every week to transform and uplift every dimension of our lives in the most profound and exciting way.

4.  The Shabbos Project (Jewish Report)

Something amazing is happening in our community. Something that is going to unify Jews  right across the spectrum, and from all backgrounds. It’s audacious and has never been tried before. It’s so powerful and yet so simple: for the South African Jewish Community to keep one Shabbos together from Friday afternoon sundown 11 October to Saturday night 12 October when the  stars  are out. It’s called “The Shabbos Project – Keeping it Together”.

But why Shabbos? And what’s the whole idea behind this initiative of thousands of South African Jews keeping one Shabbos together? To answer these questions we have composed The Shabbos Project Manifesto which declares:

  1. Together we will keep the Shabbos of 11/12 October from sundown to stars out.
  2. We will keep it in its entirety, in all of its detail and splendor as set out in The Code of Jewish Laws.
  3. Its rhythm will unite us with each other, with Jews around the world and throughout the ages.
  4. On this day we will create a warm and loving space, holding our families together.
  5. On this day we will lay down the burdens, distractions, demands and pressures of daily life. 
  6. On this day we will renew ourselves, emerging spiritually, emotionally and physically invigorated.
  7. On this day we will own our precious heritage, wearing it as a badge of pride and honour.
  8. Together we embark on this great adventure to rediscover our G-d-given gift of Shabbos. 

The Manifesto aims to give us all unity and clarity of purpose as we go forward to keep the Shabbos together.

The Shabbos Project is about “keeping it together” – not just Shabbos keeping us together, but all of us keeping it together. Because that is the idea: all South African Jews coming together from across the spectrum – religious, secular, traditional; young and old – to keep Shabbos as a community. There is such a wonderful energy we generate when we do things together as one united community. Families and friends sharing this experience together makes it even more special and memorable.

Imagine thousands of Jews across the country keeping the same Shabbos. Imagine the inspiration. Imagine the sense of unity. Of course, in keeping Shabbos together, we will not only be connecting with all of South African Jewry, but with Jews in every generation across every historic era since the Torah was given at Mount Sinai 3326 years ago.

But there is another meaning to “Keeping it together”.

Modern life has become fragmented; we are constantly pulled in different directions by distractions, demands and onerous responsibilities that pile up with increasing speed. We are now dealing with lightning-paced, ubiquitous communication channels, our attentions overwhelmed by the cacophony around us, while our lives buckle under the strain. And it’s not just communication, but the entire set-up of our modern world. Families struggle to find time to sit down to a meal together and just talk and be together. We seldom get the chance to “be there” – all there, all at once.

Into a world of fragmentation, Shabbos enters to offer us that chance. On Shabbos, we set aside time to revisit and reinvigorate our most important relationships – with G-d, with our families, with our friends and, actually, with ourselves. Through Shabbos, we keep it – our lives – together.

In order to make the Shabbos Project real, manageable and accessible to everybody we have created a vast array of resources and content across a wide range of platforms to get you started. We have written an official guide book (which will be available at your shul on Rosh Hashana) for the why and the how of Shabbos and we have created a Tool Kit to accompany you through your Shabbos experience. And then there is even the option to find a coach or a host to enhance the Shabbos experience or you can become a coach or a host for somebody else. And for any questions you may have we have set up a hot line 011 242-5550 that you can call and get answers right away.

5.  A Year of Physical and Spirital Pleasure (Cape Jewish Chronicle)

Is pleasure compatible with holiness? Shabbat is even more holy than Yom Kippur and yet it is a day filled with physical pleasure: the kiddush on Friday night is recited on wine; there is a mitzvah to have three festive meals, to wear special clothes, and to enjoy the day to the utmost. How do we understand this?

Shabbat is a day of creating balance in our lives by integrating two  powerful forces of the human being – physical and spiritual. Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel, the Alter of Slabodka, says that the concepts of holiness and pleasure are actually linked; although we tend to think of the two as incongruent, the holiness of Shabbat manifests itself in the physical pleasures of the day and teaches us that the two are interconnected.

There is a partnership between the physical world and holiness. Most of our mitzvot involve physical actions and objects: ‘tzedaka’ is fulfilled with money, ‘chesed’ with actions such as visiting the sick and speaking words of kindness , ‘matzah’ is eaten, ‘tephilin’ are worn, candles are lit.   Judaism suffuses and uplifts every aspect of life with good deeds. 

Good deeds transform fleeting physical experiences and objects into an eternal and meaningful legacy; and paradoxically good deeds also enable us to truly enjoy life. The Vilna Gaon compares the physical pleasures of this world and the pursuit of materialism to drinking salt water: the more you drink, the thirstier you become. Consuming and experiencing the most indulgent luxuries or enticing pleasures can never fill a person’s soul. There remains a gnawing emptiness at the heart of a life disconnected from the spirituality and values of the Torah. There is a reciprocal relationship between the physical and the spiritual – the more Torah and spirituality there is, the more one can enjoy the physical world; and if one enjoys the physical world through spirituality, one reaches a higher level of Torah.

Shabbat teaches us this philosophy for life. Together with its special food, fine clothing, sleep and all of the pleasures of the physical world, it is also a day of holiness, a day of praying and learning Torah, a day of connecting to family with love. It is a day when we eat, pray and love. We drink the wine but we sanctify it by saying kiddush on it. We have three festive meals but they are part of the mitzvah of celebrating Shabbat. Shabbat enables us to experience profound satisfaction with the pleasures of the physical world, because on Shabbat everything is uplifted. 

Shabbat gives us an opportunity to view life from the proper perspective, and this is why our Sages regard it as one of the Torah’s most important mitzvot. It has a profound impact, which spills over into the rest of the week. It is the microcosm of life, the model of how to live, and if we internalise its message our lives will be transformed for the good. Shabbat teaches us that when the physical and spiritual come together, both are uplifted, and that this is how we live in the fullest and happiest way.

As we prepare for Rosh Hashana, let us in a spirit of unity as the South African Jewish community embrace and pledge our commitment to “The Shabbos Project”, which is described in the rest of this publication. In the great merit of us doing so with full hearts, may Hashem inscribe us all for a good and sweet year filled with His abundant blessings.

6. Refreshing our Lives (Message for shul magazines)

Shabbat is about the power of newness. One can often feel jaded by the vicissitudes of life, and even bored and stale by its monotony. Shabbat is about renewing our inspiration with life and refreshing ourselves, not just physically, but emotionally and spiritually as well, so that we can emerge on Saturday night like new human beings.

There is one word that says it all; and it is found in this verse: “The Children of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, making it a day of rest … because six days the L-rd made heaven and earth and on the seventh day He stopped and rested vayinafash.” (Shemot 31:17). The word vayinafash literally means “and He was refreshed”. Obviously, the term is used symbolically for our benefit because G-d never needs to rest. The word vayinafash captures the essence of what Shabbat is. It means to be refreshed, to be given new life and energy, on all levels – spiritual, emotional and physical.

On Shabbat, away from all the distractions and demands of daily life with its onerous responsibilities, we rediscover ourselves and our loved ones, and our core values in a way that is profoundly refreshing; not merely in the physical sense of good food, sleep and relaxation but also emotionally and spiritually. We reconnect with our most important relationships, with G-d, with our families, friends and, actually, with ourselves. On Shabbat we eat, pray and love, and we emerge every week with renewed energy in every aspect of who we are. We step out of the rush, pressure and frenzy of our daily lives to appreciate our blessings and to look at our lives with fresh eyes, and when we do that we ourselves become refreshed and energised.

Shabbat teaches us to see the world as new and fresh because it is a weekly celebration of G-d’s creation of the world. G-d wants us to live in a seven day cycle with the newness and freshness of the world because this enables us to live with a renewed sense of inspiration. Creation is not a distant memory, but something we live with every moment of the day. Life is a gift; as our Sages teach us we give grateful thanks to Hashem “for every breath”. This awareness can open our eyes and heighten our sensitivity so that we take nothing for granted and are inspired to view the world and our lives not as something static but as something alive and dynamic, and to see every day as a fresh blessing from G-d.

As we prepare for the “days of awe”, judgement and repentance, let us as a community to embrace and pledge our commitment to “The Shabbat Project”. In the great merit of us doing so with full hearts, may Hashem inscribe all us all for a good and sweet year filled with His blessings.  

With warmest Rosh HaShana wishes to all.

 

Posted on 02 September 2013 in Text, Your World

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