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Wednesday
Sep092015

THE YEAR OF SALVATION

THE UNIQUE YEAR

This week’s parsha begins with the words “You are standing firmly today, all of you together, before G-d your G-d…”

This parsha is always read the Shabbos before Rosh Hashanah. According to the Baal Shem Tov, this is hinted in the word “today,” which our Sages state alludes to the day of Rosh Hashanah, the Day of Judgment. These words are intended to instill within us the confidence that we will stand firm and victorious on this day.

This is true every year, but we may suggest that it is particularly true this year. With but a cursory glance at this new year’s date, 5776, we can discover a special connection to the theme of how we are confident that we will win our case and bring salvation to ourselves and to the entire world.

In Hebrew every number is also a letter and every letter a number, This New Year will be the year 5776. It is designated by the following letters: Hei (5,000) tav (400), shin (300), ayin (70) vav (6) = 5776. The Hebrew letters that make up this number form the word Teshuva, the literal meaning of which is “salvation.”

TIPPING THE SCALES FOR TESHUA

When Maimonides (Hilchos T’shuva 3:4) speaks of judgment on Rosh Hashanah, he cites the Talmudic statement (Kiddushin 40b) that we should look at our tally sheet of our virtues and vices and view them as evenly balanced. Similarly, we should look at the entire world as evenly balanced between virtue and vice. A single Mitzvah can tip the scales for our merits and the merits of the entire world. Maimonides, however, adds the following words: “and causes teshua (salvation) and hatzala (deliverance) for oneself and the entire world.”

The word Teshuva is closely related to the word and theme of Nitzavim; standing firmly and confidently. With the realization that all it takes is one additional Mitzvah to bring Teshuva-salvation to oneself and the world, the highlight of this year, we can indeed stand firm and be confident that we will merit salvation.

FOUR ROOTS

What precisely is the meaning of Teshuva?

The Tzemach Tzedek (the third Lubavitcher Rebbe, whose 226th birthday we will be observing the day before Rosh Hashanah, one of the most prolific writers in all of history and who is known by the name of his classic work on Talmud and Jewish law), states that this word has four roots:

The first is “salvation.”

The second is “crying out” for salvation.

The third is “turning,” as in the phrase “turning your attention to someone.” This usage can be found in the verse, “G-d turned [vayisha] to Abel and to his offering.” In other words, G-d turned His attention to Abel and accepted his offering.

The fourth is “delight” or “joy,” as when the book of Proverbs (8:30) describes the Torah, allegorically, as G-d’s delight and plaything.

As we are poised to enter the New Year of Teshuva and stand on the threshold of the ultimate Teshuva, let us reflect on these four dimensions.

FIRST DIMENSION: WE ARE IN G-D’S HANDS EXCLUSIVELY

The first dimension is salvation. The Psalmists (146:3) states: “Do not rely on nobles, nor on a human being who holds no Teshuva-salvation.”

The lesson of this dimension is abundantly clear and particularly relevant to this day and age. As the national election season heats up, we have to remember that our salvation does not come from an elected official, no matter how human, noble and charismatic he may be. One medieval commentator, the Radak, writes that this verse teaches us that we should not rely on a king or others in power who themselves are merely pawns in the hands of G-d.

This prompts us to ask an important question.  Mortal men can be influenced to treat us well and to give us some measure of earthly salvation. But if G-d is in total control of their actions as leaders how do we change things? What influence do we have over our future? What can we do to have G-d bring Teshuva-salvation?

SECOND DIMENSION: PLEAD AND DEMAND!

The answer is provided in the next dimension of Teshuva, which means crying out. G-d waits for us to be pro-active in the process of Redemption. First and foremost, He wants us to cry out to Him and ask, and even demand, that He redeem us from exile and bring about the Age of Peace and G-dly revelation that He has promised. It is not blasphemous or sacrilegious for us to demand this of G-d because that is precisely what G-d demands of us.

Moreover, indifference to and acceptance of exile, with its attendant concealment of G-d and rampant evil, is the very opposite of showing respect for G-d. If one’s father is being disrespected and enduring pain and misery, which child will not do something to remove that source of pain and anguish? The Prophet Yechezkel describes exile as a desecration of G-d’s name. Our Sages emphasize that G-d “suffers” with us in exile and He too asks to be redeemed.

The least we can do is express our displeasure for this state of affairs and cry out to G-d to change it.

Moreover, by crying out to G-d to bring an end to exile we demonstrate two things. The first is that we have profound faith in G-d. Otherwise, why would we turn to Him? Turning to G-d is the most dramatic way of demonstrating our belief in Him and in His ability to totally transform the world.

Second, when we cry out to G-d we demonstrate that we are sensitive children. We express our sensitivity to G-d’s pain as well as the pain of all those in the world who suffer because G-d’s presence has not penetrated the psyche of all people. When G-d is concealed people are prone to commit un-G-dly actions. Crying out to G-d demonstrates that we are not callous. This, the idea of crying out, is the second root of the word Teshuva.

THIRD DIMENSION: MAKE A RIGHT TURN!

Once we have cried out to G-d, He rightly asks us what we have done to change the balance of the world. What, He asks, have you done to turn away from the status-quo and preoccupation with your own interests? When will you do something to remove the obstructive nature of the world that doesn’t allow My light to penetrate every corner? And, when will you turn in My direction and pay attention to My interests? These firm responses reflect the third nuance of the word Teshuva, which connotes turning our attention from one area to another. Here too we turn our attention from our own selfish interests to think about G-d’s interests.

FOURTH DIMENSION: LIVE WITH THE DELIGHT OF REDEMPTION NOW!

The final step in this process is not to wait for G-d to answer us with His Teshuva, but start living a life of G-dly delight and joy; this is the fourth dimension of the word Teshuva. When G-d sees our commitment to living in a redemptive manner, He will remove the veil that covers up the reality that this world is a place of utter G-dly delight. Let’s not wait for G-d to remove the veil.  Let’s remove it by treating ourselves to the greatest of delights: Torah study, particularly with emphasis on the mystical teachings which are characterized as the ultimate delights of Torah.

FOUR STAGES OF THE MESSIANIC PROCESS

These four roots of the word Teshuva also reflect the four stages of the Messianic process.

Maimonides (Hilchos Melachim, Chapter 11) describes Moshiach’s efforts at fighting and defeating the enemies that surround us. This parallels the idea of a salvation when we are saved from those who attempt to destroy us or undermine our ability to live a fully Torah oriented life.

The next step, Maimonides continues, will be for Moshiach to build the Bais HaMikdash, the place where all of our prayers are directed. It is the ultimate place for and experience of prayer. Only we will no longer cry out because we are suffering, but we will call to G-d in prayer and express our deepest and most heartfelt feelings of yearning to get closer to G-d. This is alluded to in the translation of Teshuva as a form of prayer.

This stage will be followed by Moshiach turning (the third meaning of Teshuva) to the nations of the world, as the prophet Tz’fania declares: “For then will I turn to the peoples a pure language, that they may all call upon the name of the L-rd to serve Him with one consent.”  From Moshiach’s efforts to redeem the Jewish people, he (with G-d’s direction exclusively) will turn to the rest of humanity and bring them to serve G-d.

The final step in the Messianic drama will be the introduction of the greatest spiritual delights, relative to which all material pleasure will be as naught. This parallels the fourth root of the word Teshuva, which is delight and joy.

May all of you, among all of Israel, be inscribed and sealed for a good year; a good and sweet year. A year of Teshuva in all respects and in all dimensions, with the imminent arrival of Moshiach, who will usher in the true and complete Redemption.  

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