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Leave a Message Hon, We Out

Back in the days of answering machines, a friend of ours had a message recorded in the yattiest of yat intonations and it went like this. “Leave a message hon, we out!”

I had a conversation with someone this week who expressed to me that they sometimes dream of the possibility of “checking out.” Not in the suicide sense, G-d forbid, but in the escapism sense. Imagine an existence where we’re neither challenged by the necessity of taking care of physical needs, nor by the desire to engage in earthly pursuits? If only we could be in a realm where it was all spiritual all the time, and we communed with the Divine without any static from our bodily life.

Sefer Yetzirah, one of the earliest works of Kabbala, states, “Im ratz lib’cha, shuv l’echad – If you heart races, return to one.” What is intended with the racing of the heart? The Chasidic masters teach, that it means a strong yearning for undistracted closeness to Hashem, to the extent that one’s individuality is subsumed within the Divine. So, the heart races toward Divinity. This can be a powerfully uplifting experience. It can serve as a catalyst for explosive positive change in one’s life.

This can also be very dangerous. A person can so savor the experience of the closeness, that they lose the desire for physical life. After tasting the sweetness and seeing the light, why would anyone want to have to deal with rush hour traffic, bills, smartphone notifications, workplace politics, any politics for that matter, the pandemic, family tensions, and much more? At that point the attitude becomes, “Leave a message hon, we out!”

The solution, declares Sefer Yetzirah, is “Shuv L’echad – Return to One.” When we recall that Hashem entrusted us with the mission of revealing His Oneness in all of creation, this spurs us to return and bounce back from the racing of the heart, to a regular everyday life of doing what Hashem wants of us. When every encounter is shaped by the drive to fulfill our Divine mission, what was previously ho-hum and mundane, can suddenly be perceived in dizzying techno-color terms. Ultimately, we discover, that the greatest heights, far beyond where we went with our racing heart, can only be reached in this lowest and most corporeal plane of existence.

So now, the new recording on the answering machine is, “Leave a message hon, we in!”

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Let's Eat Grandma

Let’s eat Grandma

This statement, minus the comma, can be understood as an expression of horrific cannibalistic intentions. This statement, with a comma after the word “eat,” is a noble expression of inviting Grandma to dinner. A lesson in the value of proper punctuation.

But what about when the placement of proper punctuation is not so perceptible?

In Chassidic thought, the life of a person is presented as a struggle between one’s noble self and one’s egocentric self. This struggle is played out on the battlefield of everyday life. Each side has a support system. The forces of holiness vs. the forces of evil. The King/Commander-in-chief of the good side is Hashem.

When a nation battles in a struggle for its very survival and future, the king is willing to put everything on the line to achieve victory. All the resources of the kingdom, which have been stored and saved for generations, are accessed, and given to the troops for the sake of a triumphant outcome. Nothing is off limits or untouchable in the quest for victory.

For the sake of victory in this struggle for the future of each person, and the entire cosmos, our King, too, opens the storehouses of treasure, the deepest secrets of the Torah, the loftiest souls in the form of our leaders, and the blessings in life that we need, to emerge triumphant in the battle of good and evil.

Three times a year, on the morning before Rosh Hashanah, at the climax of Yom Kippur, and at the moment of intensity on Hoshaanah Rabba, we recite the following passage. (I will translate it literally and without punctuation.) The Gates of Heaven please open and Your storehouse that is good for us please open. As we read the second half of the phrase, it can be punctuated in two ways. The first is “Your storehouse that is good, for us please open.” This implies that the storehouse (of Divine treasures), which is good by some objective metric, is requested to be opened for us. The second way of punctuating is, “Your storehouse that is good for us, please open.” This implies that the treasures must be appreciably good “for us.” A goodness that we can perceive from our subjective vantage point.

When the Rebbe cited this passage while presenting the idea of the King using all resources in the quest for victory, he emphasized the second way. The treasure must be appreciably good by our subjective metric. We ask Hashem to bless us with goodness that we can recognize in an obvious manner. With this infusion of open and revealed Divine blessings, we will have the resources necessary to emerge triumphant for the sake of Hashem.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

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