Monday, August 16, 2010

Elul, the pericardium, Judgement and Truth

The world is in a state of chaos. Unprecedented floods continue to ravage Pakistan, leaving a million plus people homeless, while ironically the Taliban threatens to murder any foreign aid volunteers. Mudslides are overwhelming China and Guatamala. Uncontained forest fires rage in Russia. An atomic bomb appears within the reach of Iran, while the Hezbollah is building networks of tunnels, and cynically setting up missile launching sites in orphanages, just waiting to strike the match which sets off the next war.

When is all this occurring? During Elul, when Ha-Shem is closest to us, when he speaks to us most directly. Our sages tell us, that when on the Shabbos before Elul we bless the new moon, the fish in the sea tremble in anticipation of the coming day of judgement. But what exactly does this term "judgement?" really mean and why does all of creation, except for us, get it... while we don't?

The answer lies in the very nature of Man and the nature of the world. Every created thing (except us) whether animate or inanimate is keenly aware that its very continued existence depends upon it's life-force or Qi which comes from Ha-Shem and were it to choose to disconnect, it would vaporize to nothingness. We are the only creatures with completely free choice. But that free choice can only occur within the framework of illusion. If we could clearly see things as they really are, to know and understand the damage that we do to our bodies and souls when we disconnect, feed our egos and pull away from Ha-Shem, obviously no one would ever vainly indulge or sin. But then we wouldn't have free choice, would we? What person in their right mind would go around harming himself? Think of the leper--he feels no pain, he has no awareness of his body deteriorating, but this is a curse, not a blessing! It is not just a coincidence that the word "olam" or world, in Hebrew, comes from the root that means "hidden", for the reality of the way things really are, is overlaid with layer upon layer of physicality and hedonism, under which the real world hides. Unfortunately, the vast majority of people are so caught up in their pleasures and egos, that they rarely look beyond the "olam". Yet Ha-Shem, our loving Father, in his great mercy annually comes closer to us, and urges us to wake up from the stupor, from the anesthesia in which we get stuck.

That opportunity is Elul. Our sages tell us that Elul is an acronym from the first letters of the verse, "I am to my beloved and my beloved is to me," an indication of the close relationship that we aspire to attain with Ha-Shem during this month. But there is yet another verse brought down,(devarim 30:6) also an acronym, which even more profoundly alludes to the power of Elul: "...and He will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring." Circumcision is associated with the removal of the foreskin that a Jewish baby boy is born with, but how do we understand what the Torah saying here? Is it telling us to have open heart surgery and remove the pericardium, the thin membranous sac that envelops our hearts? Hardly! The Ramban says on this verse : Circumcision of the heart indicates a change in our human existence: the removal of the Yetzer Hara. This is the vision of the era of Moshiach, the days of the final redemption, when we will have no inclination for rebellion or vice and we will live in harmony with ourselves and with HaShem. No inner struggle will divert our energies from the true goal of spiritual life. And our desire to return to HaShem will facilitate the removal of the factors which take us away from Him, as the Gemara in tells us, "One who is ready to purify himself, will be helped from Above."

The Ramban however goes further. He views this change as a return to the pristine world of Gan Eden, before Adam and Chava sinned. In the "Gan Eden" existence, man lives in harmony with HaShem, reflecting the perfect togetherness of man and his Maker. Teshuva takes us back to the exact point of departure. It is ‘return’ in the literal sense of the word. So our aim during Elul should be to take ourselves back to a pre-sin world, a world where the layers of "olam" are circumcised from our hearts.

And it gets more intense as we enter the final few days before Rosh Hashana, Judgement day. Each day is a microcosm of the days of the year we are now ending. Part of the judgement we face involves looking within. Our sages tell us that He remembers all the things that we forget, and forgets all the things we remember. Whenever we judge ourselves, regretting and resolving to change, we literally free ourselves from having to stand trial in heaven! One of the names of Rosh Hashana is Yom Hazikaron (remembrance day), and this reflects an additional component of our trial: Every word we say has significance. And especially on Rosh Hashana. Rosh Hashana doesn't mean "New Year's Day." Rather it means the "Head of the Year" This awesome day is to the coming year, what the head is to the body. It is the control center, the brain. And this is the essence of why it is called "Judgement Day", because just as the brain influences every nerve, muscle, fascia, every cell of the body, so too what we do on Rosh Hashana will influence EVERYTHING in the coming year, including our livelihood, our health, our fortune and even our lives. The Gemara tells us that "simana milsa he", that omens have significance on Rosh Hashana: the fact that we eat the head of a fish and pray that this year we should be on top, at the head of thing and not the bottom, that we dip apple in honey and pray that it should be a good and sweet year, and so on. All of these symbolic acts have profound significance in affecting the coming year--but we can't take these, nor anything else we do lightly! For we are being watched and judged.

So now as the last few days of the year slowly slip away, our job must be to prepare for this judgement, by judging ourselves, by clearing up our unsettled scores, and by begging Ha-Shem to circumcise our hearts, in order to really see the truth. I heard recently,in a CD by Rav Shalom Arush, that Moshiach was supposed to have come last Pesach, but that 2 tzadikim implored our righteous redeemer to delay in coming. Why? because many, many Jews would have died during the final war, those Jews who had not yet returned to Ha-Shem. And Moshiach agreed to wait. May we be ready soon, may all of our brothers and sisters wake up and realize the illusion they've been living, and may we join the rest of creation in being aware of where our lifeforce comes from, with that awareness crowning our A-lmighty Father and Doctor as King.

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