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Parshat - Nitzavim-Vayelech

Thursday, 14 September, 2017 - 4:33 pm

Growing up, I learned about the days of Rosh Hashana, the Ten days of Repentance, Yom Kippur and the month of Elul leading up to them. They are “days of awe,” we learned. What does that mean exactly? As a kid I thought this meant that these are days to be afraid of. I had some teachers who reinforced that, teaching us that Hashem is sitting in judgment on Rosh Hashana, the books of life and death are before Him, and He judges each person to determine what his next year will be like. If we have sinned, I learned, we must do Teshuva, repent, change our ways, cry out to Hashem for forgiveness and resolve to do better next year. There was a palpable fear of the Supreme Judge Who is going to “get you” for all the things you did wrong, and you’d better shape up, or else, Lots and lots of awe!

Then I started listening to the talks of Rabbi Schneerson, our Rebbe. I learned that yes, indeed, most of that is true, but I learned to look at it through a completely different lens. During the month of Elul, our Sages taught, Hashem “shows a smiling face” to each individual. Hashem is not hoping to catch us at something wrong. Hashem reminds us of His unbounding love for every one of His children. Rosh Hashana is coming, the time when the lease on the world is up, and we need to renew it.  Chassidus teaches that Hashem created the world in order for us humans to bring the Divine spirit into all of the material things, and the existence of the world depends on that. On day six of creation Adam, the first man, stood up and gathered all of Creation and announced that Hashem is the ruler of the world, thereby fulfilling the purpose of creation. Hashem then gave the Universe a one year “lease”, and this lease is renewable every Rosh Hashana, the anniversary of Adam’s creation. So every year on Rosh Hashana, Adam’s children do the same. We blow the Shofar and accept Hashem as our ruler. Imagine the privilege that we have, each of us being given the opportunity to express the purpose of creation and to bring Divine life to the world!  Hashem gave us this opportunity because of His love for us. He did not want us to feel like we were given everything without earning it. Human nature is such that we appreciate and enjoy what we earn much more than what is given with no work on our part. This is known as “bread of shame.” So Hashem made us partners in creation, and it is our work to improve the world and follow the lifestyle given in the Torah that keeps the world going.

If we are to be true partners to Hashem, it behooves us to make sure that we are worthy partners. When we think of Hashem’s love for each of us, this awakens a response of deep love in our hearts and minds, to want to live up to Hashem’s trust in us. This also creates a great sense of awe. If Hashem loves us so much and shows so much kindness toward us, should we not be careful not to harm that relationship and allow anything to get in the way? So the overwhelming emotion of Elul and the High Holidays is love, Hashem’s love for us and our love for Him, coupled with a powerful sense of awe, recognizing our awesome opportunity, which brings with it an awesome responsibility. So, as in a human relationship, when we know that someone truly loves us, we do all we can to strengthen the relationship and are fearful of doing anything that might cause distance, our relationship with Hashem in Elul becomes stronger. We look back over the last year and see what we have done to strengthen our love for Hashem, and what we may have done that distances us from Him. We strive to improve ourselves, to fix what needs to be fixed in our relationship, so that on Rosh Hashana we can honestly stand up and proclaim that Hashem is our ruler, our parent, and our beloved source of life. We ask Hashem to see our inner love for Him, and to bless us with another year to continue bringing His Divine light into the world. 

Instead of a depressing, fearful and in a way fatalistic time, this can and should be a greatly uplifting time, a time of spiritual renewal, a time of great hope and optimism. Hashem looks down upon us and smiles to us, encouraging this hope and optimism. And Hashem is happy, in the words of the Psalms, with his creations and blesses us with goodness and sweetness for the New Year.

I invite you to join us at Chabad for Rosh Hashana. Our services are open and friendly, everyone is invited, no tickets or reservations required. You will enjoy the new social hall at Chabad in Palo Alto, or the services at our other locations. No matter where each of us is on the ladder of observance, Hashem is smiling and inviting us to join Him in the re-creation of the world on Rosh Hashana. Come and hear the Shofar and be part of it. Yes, you.

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