Back To the Future
Rabbi Ben Tzion Krasnianski
Rosh Hashana 5764
A local reporter called me the other day she was seeking help in writing an article about Rosh Hashanah. She was asking six New York rabbis how living in New York City would shape their Rosh Hashanah message to their congregations for the upcoming year, 5764?
My response was that the whole theme of Rosh Hashanah is one of renewal, a reminder that life is unpredictable and full of surprises. Each individual life which is a microcosm of the entire world, is recreated on Rosh Hashanah. During these 48 hours an inner, deeper dimension of life is revealed where we have the freedom of choice to make a quantum leap forward and to change for the better.
The Alter Rebbe, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, writes in Tanya (Igeret Hakodesh chapter 14) that there's a powerful new Divine energy that is unleashed in the world every Rosh Hashanah, which only increases in strength with each passing year. Rosh Hashanah empowers us, to not remain neutral, to not live our lives as passive observers and bystanders, but rather as full and active participants. The Torah teaches us that even one added good deed, or even one powerful heartfelt resolution to change, could transform our individual and collective destiny.
Everything is in a name. Living in "New" York means experiencing the sudden unpredictability of life. The mega events of the past two years have impressed on us how life continuously takes us by surprise and how life never stands still even for a moment. Whenever we become jaded thinking that we’ve seen it all, along comes a stunner that catches us totally off guard. It’s also what characterizes our
day and age: the constant breakthroughs, revolutions, changes and transformations in all aspects of life that are picking up speed at an ever quicker pace.
We don’t have the luxury to stand still as life happens, and the breakthroughs keep on coming ever more rapidly. We are, however, given the freedom of choice to decide whether these breakthroughs will be astonishing changes for the good, or G-d forbid, shockingly new revelations of depravity, degradation, barbarity and absolute evil.
The Story of Our Life
On Rosh Hashanah we celebrate the creation of man which is actually the sixth day of creation, when G-d created Adam. In Chassidic philosophy it is explained that on Rosh Hashanah we mark the day that the soul journeyed downward from its heavenly perch, from the loftiest heights as it crash landed into the deepest abyss. Birth, creation, is a traumatic experience for the soul. Heaven is where there is no gap between potential and actual, where everything is luminous and crystal clear. Earth, however, is where there’s a Grand Canyon, a huge divide between the potential and the actual.
This gap creates an enormous inner tension. While our Divine essence is bubbling with energy, bursting at the seams, ready to emerge and to surface, potential that is not realized and G-d given talent that is not fully utilized becomes hazardous to our health and well being. Our pintele yid could be compared to nuclear energy that is ready to be ignited. If G-d forbid it isn't utilized properly, however, it could explode, wreak havoc and turn into a destructive force.
At the precise moment when the Jewish people experienced their greatest breakthrough, when for the very first time ever, Moshe, the ultimate Jew broke through all barriers and went to heaven and back, they also reached their nadir with the greatest betrayal and treachery of all times, the sin of the Golden Calf. When such an intense level of energy is exposed and we are given the potential to reach the peak we have to use every ounce of our G-d given abilities, every fiber of our being and every bone in our body to ensure that we don’t sink instead into the deepest abyss.
Who else could have brought the “gift” of Communism to the world, an ideology that destroyed half a world and threatened to destroy the other half, if not for Jews?
It is a truism that Jewish history is marked by extremes.
It’s either an exodus from Egypt or a catastrophic destruction of a Temple coupled with exile; either a Holocaust or a Six Day War; either Oslo or Moshiach.
Why is the soul sent on such a treacherous journey, down a road strewn with so many pitfalls? What is the soul’s mission? Chassidus replies: To do Teshuvah, as King Solomon (Kohelet 12:7) states: And the spirit will return to G-d. On the deepest level Teshuvah means to return to ones essence, by revealing man’s innate Divine potential.
When Adam was created on Rosh Hashanah his very first and primary assignment was to do Teshuvah, to bridge the gap between the status quo and the promising future.
We sound the Shofar on Rosh Hashanah to awaken us from our sleep, to allow our potential to become fully actualized, to bring us back to the future, and to alert us to the Shofar blowing of Moshiach.
Moshiach: the Ultimate Breakthrough
The Jerusalem Talmud (Tractate Yoma 5:A) states: that a generation that hasn’t witnessed the rebuilding of the Temple it’s as if the Temple has been destroyed in their generation. The Babylonian Talmud (Tractate Sotah 49:A) phrases it differently: There isn’t a day in exile that isn’t worse than its predecessor. In other words, Moshiach isn’t a pleasant wish, a sweet dream or a comforting illusion but an urgent necessity. The status quo is intolerable and unbearable; the ongoing exile is a daily assault, a brand new insult and a fresh destruction!
The energy of Moshiach is already here; the only question is what we are going to do with this explosive energy. Every day that the breakthrough of Moshiach doesn’t materialize, we discover a deeper, darker stratum of the Exile. Whenever we think that we’ve seen it all, along comes a tragedy that breaks even the most jaded of hearts. A father and daughter, who went out to have a father daughter talk the night before her wedding in Jerusalem, are blown to pieces and the wedding guests attend the funeral instead. The exile becomes ever more painful and ever more intolerable with each passing day.
Every Jew inherits as his birthright this nuclear charged energy and we don’t have the luxury to park it in neutral. The world won’t let us fall asleep at the wheel and the relentless focus on Israel won’t go away until Jews individually and collectively get their act together.
The Rebbe has thrown down the gauntlet. He stated: Moshiach is ready to come; I leave it entirely in your capable hands. The challenge is for each and every one of us to utilize this intense Divine energy that we possess, to light up our inner world and to illuminate the world around us. The ball is in our court.
Our prayer for the new year is that we should live up to our potential and tap into the dynamic current that would electrify and inspire us to move forward, to grow and to change, one mitzvah at a time.
To conclude with the traditional Rosh Hashanah blessing: May you be written and inscribed into the book of life for a sweet, healthy and prosperous new year. May we indeed merit seeing the ultimate breakthrough, the coming of Moshiach, who will usher in the Messianic era, when genuine peace and tranquility will prevail in Israel, here in New York and throughout the world.