Category Archives: Archives 5764


Shevat 5764 – Swarming Towards Perfection

Rosh Chodesh Shevat 5764

From the desk of: Rabbi Reuven Lauffer

Swarming Towards Perfection

A while ago a close friend told me a fabulous idea that he had seen in Rav Tzadok HaKohen’s sefer Pri Tzadik. It centred around how each of the Ten Plagues correlated to a different month of the year. I was so intrigued that I searched around until I found it. The month of Shevat — being two months away from Nissan (did you start cleaning for Pesach yet?) — corresponds to the Plague of Locusts. But what is the connection?

Rav Tzadok explains that before we, the Jewish People, were able to prepare ourselves for the exodus from Egypt, we had to detach ourselves from any misdirected physical desires and cravings. In Tevet Hashem sent the Plague of Hailstones. It was so devastating that, with the exception of the wheat and the spelt crops, the entire food supply in Egypt was destroyed. According to Chazal the Egyptians were sure that they were all going to die of starvation. However, once they saw that some shoots had been spared the onslaught, they began to believe that everything was going to be all right. I remember reading in autobiographies of Holocaust survivors that in the Ghettoes one of the first reactions of Jews who emerged after having been hidden underground for extended lengths of time was to touch the grass. They could not believe that amidst the death and the destruction there was still potential for anything to grow. That small bit of knowledge was a source of great comfort for many of them. For the Egyptians, too, the small shoots symbolized hope for the future. The very fact that something could grow in the midst of all the devastation was enough to fill them with optimism.

And then Hashem sent the locusts.

As the Egyptians watched the last traces of food disappear, devoured by the swarms of locusts that covered the country, their hopes and aspirations for the future disappeared as well. As the Jewish People watched they came to the realization that everything in the world, regardless of whether spiritual or physical, belongs to Hashem. And that, writes Rav Tzadok, is the beginning of the sanctification of the physical and our becoming more spiritual.

Rav Tzadok explains that understanding the significance of Shevat in this way is a prerequisite for comprehending why Adar – the symbol of uprooting Amalek – follows Shevat. Adar can only be a meaningful continuation by fully understanding that Shevat has been given to us as a means of cleansing our physical desires and raising of them to a spiritual plane.

Everyone knows the famous story of the Chasid who went to speak with his Rebbe. As they were talking the Rebbe asked him to wait a moment while he made a bracha over a piece of fruit. As the Rebbe did so and took his first bite the Chasid began to think to himself “You know, I eat fruit just like the Rebbe. I wonder if there is any real difference between us. After all he’s only a human being just like me. Maybe I’m wasting my time here. What can he offer me that I can’t get elsewhere?” The Rebbe looked at his Chasid (who hadn’t said a word) and said to him “Do you want me to tell you the real difference between us? I eat in order to be able to make brachos – you make brachos in order to eat!”

The beauty and the depth of the story is clear. Unlike his Chasid, the Rebbe had managed to elevate the mundane and turn it into something very, very special. Eating a piece of fruit was an intensely spiritual and “nourishing” experience. And that, says Rav Tzadok, is the meaning of Tu b’Shevat. Shevat on the face of it is a pretty bleak month. It comes in the winter, it’s cold and wet, the daylight is short and the darkness is long, but it is also a time of incredible potential. Underneath the surface things are beginning to move. Come spring time, they will begin to sprout and blossom and reveal their wondrous splendor for all who care to look. All that beauty, all that magnificence, is being nourished from the month of Shevat. Tu b’Shevat is the time to elevate the fruit from its physical properties to something that is intensely spiritual.

In the Mishna, Tu b’Shevat has the same classification as Rosh Hashana. It is the “New Year for the Trees”. The same way that Rosh Hashana is “stock taking” time, a moment to stop and evaluate one’s relationship with Hashem, so too Tu b’Shevat offers us a unique opportunity to reflect on the wonders of Hashem’s Creation and to ponder if we really utilise the incredible gifts that Hashem has given us through His “natural” world to get closer to him.

And if we do that we are destined for a truly special year.

Rabbi Reuven Lauffer


Teves 5764 – It’s Not Over Until It’s Over

15 Teves 5764

It’s Not Over Until It’s Over

The common understanding of the Jewish yearly cycle is that Hoshana Rabah concludes the Yemei Hadin. However, one finds in the Sefrei Chasidim that in fact the grand finale of the time of judgment is Zot Chanukah. The obvious question is what is so significant about Chanukah that the final Din is postponed until then.

Rav Pincus Z’L elaborating on the Rambam’s usage of Chanukah being ‘Chaviva Hi Ad Meod’ offers a powerful insight into Chanukah. He notes that the Shalosh Regalim are experiences of Mikraei Kodesh, times when Hashem elevates us to His Presence. It is as if we are transformed into a different dimension of time and space. These occasions reflect events where we celebrate the miracles that enable us to perceive Hashem’s greatness in the world.

Chanukah however is the opposite dimension. It reflects a period in Jewish History where many Jews had become Hellenists, and only a few remained loyal to their heritage. Nevertheless Hashem embraced the Messirut Nefesh of this minority and performed miracles for them. The greatness of Chanukah is not as much the miracle of the oil, as what the miracle represented; Hashem’s tremendous unbounded love for us. Chanukah is the time that Hashem descended down to the people, and embraced us while steeped in the darkness of exile. This is the Chavivut of the holiday. Indeed, the laws of the Chag all represent this idea. All types of wicks and oils are acceptable, unlike on Shabbat. IT is a time when everyone, no matter how distant can be ignited by the presence of Hashem. It is the only time where we find that the Shechinah descends lower than ten tefachim, to inspire His Presence in our homes. When we light the Menorah, the “Ohr Pnei Melech Chayim” sits across from us and penetrates the recesses of our souls to feel this Presence. It is the holiday that expresses the greatness of the people that Hashem never forsakes us.

The key question is what is our response to this great phenomenon? What is our reaction to such great love?

Rav Pincus Z’L suggests tointrospect what does our home environment look like that Hashem has been invited to enter. What influences from the outside world do we allow to penetrate the hallowed walls of our domain? What books does a mother read to her children, what messages do they convey? The barometer that R. Pincus suggests is that which is permissible to read in a shul in front of the Aron HaKodesh. If a person has been ignited with the message of Chanukah, and feels the love of Hashem permeate his dwelling, than the home has to become transformed. According to this approach, Hashem waits until He can inspire us coming down to our level to see how we respond to close the judgment books.

Another approach to the desired response is offered in the Netivot Shalom. He suggests that one of the key words in the Al HaNisim is at the end: “Vachar Ken Bau Banecha”. When one is touched with such fatherly love, we need to act and feel as Banim LaMakom. He notes that this mindset has implications for both avoiding the negative as well as embracing the positive. On the Passuk in Mishelei that states: “Mussar Hashem Bni Al Timas”, he explains that the real Mussar of Hashem is one word – Bni- my son. If we feel that special level than many sins become beneath our dignity to do. We recognize that it is not worth soiling our special souls for these petty sins. Likewise, when feeling this level of Bni, a person will show greater passion in their davening, and Mitzvoth commiserate to this level. A person will try their utmost to please like a child behaving toward a biological parent.

This is really the message of Chanukah, feel the love, and respond as a child who wants a relationship, not as a servant who is forced in the relationship. [Is it any wonder that the reward for being careful in this Mitzvah is rewarded with Banim who are Talmedei Chachamim?!]. On this level Hashem allows us the opportunity to feel and act on this desired level of Banim before closing the books of judgment.

The end of Chanukah always coincides with Rosh Chodesh. The Ohr Gedalyahu notes that the lesson of both is renewal, and the ability to change us. The experience of Chanukah precedes the darkness of the month of Tevet as the Refuah before the Makah. Allow the Chanukah lights to escort you, allow them to change you, allow them to penetrate the walls of apathy and indifference; but most of all allow them to speak their message. Even in the greatest times of darkness Hashem cares for us and loves us, and we need to sensitize ourselves to this reality, and be prepared to change accordingly.


Kislev 5764 – Chanukah and the Importance of Being Jewish

1 Kislev, 5764

Chanukah and The Importance of Being Jewish
Torah Portion: Mikeitz
by Rabbi Noson Weisz

One of the greatest emotional blows that God can inflict on a believer is a sense of abandonment. The feeling that God is always watching over him and directing the events of his life in a positive way is central to the believer’s sense of security and well being. When he feels that he has lost this Divine Attention and that Providence has abandoned him to the vagaries of chance, his sense of the correctness of things vanishes in an instant, and he becomes totally disoriented.

This loss of orientation is not to be confused with a fear of personal danger. An excellent way to illustrate the difference between the feelings of fear and abandonment is to analyze the emotional response to acts of terrorism such as those that shook Israel the past Saturday night and Sunday. In the space of a mere twelve hours 28 innocent Jews died horrible deaths and hundreds more were injured. Many of the injured will carry their wounds with them for life.
Statistically, even following more than a year of intense terrorist activity, the chances of anyone falling victim to a terrorist attack remain extremely small. Indeed, life in Israel has hardly been disrupted by the events of the past year and a half. Jews are a courageous and stubborn people who are not easily frightened. It is the feeling of the cheapness of Jewish blood rather than fear for one’s safety that lies at the origin of one’s sense of disorientation.
We refer to God as The Shield of Abraham in the very first blessing of the Amida. Later in the prayer service we refer to Him as Israel’s faithful bodyguard. When events such as those that have rolled over us this past week hit us, it is very hard to hold on to these ideas.

Obviously the victims of terrorist attacks must be regarded as totally innocent and undeserving of their horrible fate. This is true quite regardless of their actual moral state. For the victims of terrorism do not suffer their cruel fate in their individual capacities but as members of the Jewish people. If we take the view that world events are Divinely directed as we believers do, there is a clear Divine message in the successful perpetration of these horrible acts.
Inasmuch as all of us are members of the Jewish people, the same as the victims, God is telling us that He is no longer guarding us, the Jewish people, against terrorists. As far as He is concerned any or all of us can become victims. The fact that the statistical likelihood of this happening is tiny in any individual case can hardly be of comfort given this Divine attitude. The fact of the matter is that God has abandoned His post as our watchman. We may be safe but we are no longer cared for and protected. Queen Esther expressed the feeling most eloquently in her anguished cry, My God, My God, why have You forsaken me? (Psalms 22,2)
Why has He forsaken us?

The way to approach this question properly is from the opposite end. Why is it that God manifests Himself in the character of the ‘guardian of Israel’? Is it the case that Jews have the same need of protection as other human beings, except that for some reason God singled them out for special treatment, or is there perhaps something about being Jewish that renders us more vulnerable than other human beings to attack and therefore God’s protection was not offered to us as a sign of His favor but as a necessity of Jewish survival.
One merely has to skim through the past twenty-five centuries of Jewish history to arrive at the conclusion that it is the latter theory that fits the facts. There is something about Jews that provokes the world’s hatred and anger in all times and in all circumstances. This quality makes them unusually vulnerable and in need of protection.
We are about to celebrate the Chanukah Holiday through the coming week, and the Chanukah story has much light to shed on the source of this Jewish vulnerability factor.

World history from a spiritual point of view must be divided into two parts. For the first thirty centuries following the creation of Adam, humanity worshipped God. The Divine Presence was a manifest part of the daily scene, as during this entire period there were prophets who communicated directly with God, both in Israel and among the nations. When one can read about the Divine position on world matters on the front page of his newspaper, God’s existence isn’t a debatable question that can only be decided on the basis of belief. God is a real Presence in the world that everyone must come to terms with.
Because our own world is so spiritually different, it is very difficult to project ourselves back to that vanished historic era and attempt to imagine what it must have felt like to live in such a world. We shall therefore take it for granted that the dynamics of Jewish vulnerability should be developed and understood in terms of our own historic era.

The current spiritual era of human history can be characterized as one of knowledge/belief. One can no longer detect God’s Presence in the world through the use of his ordinary senses, as God no longer makes Himself so available. It is no longer possible to reach God through the channel of direct communication. Human dealings with God must be based on the more subtle basis of deductive knowledge or belief. This spiritual era began with the construction of the Second Temple by the Members of the Great Assembly. Its two seminal markers were the development of the Oral law and the Mishna on the one hand, and the rise and spread of Greek philosophy and science on the other. Shimon HaTzadik, the first high priest to serve in the Second Temple, and the earliest individual author of a Mishna, (Avoth 1:2) was a contemporary of Alexander the Great, a student of Aristotle, and the disseminator of Greek culture through the conquest of the ancient world.
The twenty fifth day of the Jewish month of Tevet is a holiday on which fasting and mourning are forbidden; that was the day the Kutim requested permission to destroy the newly built second temple from Alexander the Great and he granted it. They informed Shimon HaTzadik; what did he do? He dressed himself in his priestly vestments and marched through the night towards Alexander with the nobility of the Jewish people bearing torches… As soon as Alexander perceived Shimon HaTzadik, he descended from his chariot and bowed to him. They asked him, ‘a great ruler such as yourself bows to this Jew?’ He told them, ‘The image of this man precedes me in my victorious battles.’ Alexander asked the Jews, ‘Why have you come?’ They answered, ‘Is it possible that you wish to destroy the house in which they pray for your success?’ (Talmud, Yuma 69a)
There is no such thing as spiritual coincidence. There is a reason why the author of the first Mishna was involved with the disseminator of Greek culture. It is the clash between these two branches of human knowledge, the Jewish Oral Law which originated from the members of the great Assembly, and the development of Science which began in ancient Greece, that has defined the spiritual territory occupied by human society for the past twenty-seven centuries of human history.

It isn’t by coincidence that the Miracle of the Lights associated with the Menorah is the symbol of the Jewish victory over the Syrian Greeks. The Menorah symbolizes knowledge. In spiritual terms, light and oil symbolize the ability of Divine Wisdom [the light] to be expressed in terms of human knowledge [the oil]. The word for oil in Hebrew is shemen, which is a compression of the word shemona, the number eight, symbolizing the heavenly Sphere of Bina, or understanding. All human knowledge is an expression of the spark of Divine knowledge contained within it.
No one has yet come up with a reasonable hypothesis that can rationally account for the birth of ideas. Thousands of physicists will study the same information in universities all over the world for years. One day, sometimes after a lapse of decades, one of them, no doubt gifted, but not unusually so in relation to his colleagues, will come up with a theory that successfully lights up an entire area of knowledge and revolutionizes the way scientists understand the world. Why him? Why then? Nobody knows. All knowledge is Divinely inspired. Knowledge is God’s light that illuminates the world.

And yet we find that rabbinic literature equates Greek culture with darkness. In the beginning of God’s creating the heavens and the earth — when the earth was astonishingly empty, with darkness upon the surface of the deep…(Genesis 1:1-2) The Rabbis of the Midrash (Breishis Raba, 2,4)found an allusion to the Four Kingdoms in this verse. In their view the word darkness is a reference to the Greek Diaspora. And yet, our sages were not at all disparaging of secular wisdom, especially Greek. May God extend Japheth, but he will dwell in the tents of Shem. (Genesis 9:27) The Talmud, (Megilah 9a) informs us that this is a reference to the beauty of Greek culture, which will be incorporated into the tents of Shem in the form of Torah knowledge.
To understand the spiritual essence of the world, we must realize that knowledge can cast darkness as well as light. Before the advent of Greek science and culture, it was impossible to look at the world and not see God. Nothing about the world could be explained other than in divine terms. Before the world could pass into a spiritual historic era where God was not universally manifest, man had to develop a system of knowledge that could explain the major phenomena of existence without the need of constantly referring to God [or gods].
The first such systematic view of the world was the accomplishment of the ancient Greeks. It is they who laid the solid intellectual foundations on which the secular/scientific view of the world rests till the present day. According to the Torah understanding of the world, the Divine spark of inspiration that allowed this knowledge to develop at this particular point in human history was delivered to man in order to allow God to hide His Presence from man. While the knowledge itself is a manifestation of Divine light, its purpose is the creation of a darkness in which God can conceal His Presence. Hence the equation of Greek culture with darkness.

Let us now compare and contrast these two systems of knowledge that provide the geography of our intellectual universe, the knowledge contained in the Oral law and the Mishna, and the knowledge revealed to us through the efforts of science.
The knowledge of the Oral law speaks to us about the purpose of life. It tells us why God created the world, what we are doing here, what our responsibilities and obligations are. It teaches us about rewards and punishments, about spiritual purity and uncleanliness, about good and evil. It tells us very little about the nature of the world in which we live, about how to manipulate it and control it or understand it. It leaves us very much dependant on God’s goodness and bounty.
On the other hand, the knowledge derived through the study of science teaches us all about the reality that surrounds us. It allows us to understand it and instructs us how to control and subdue it to do our will. It puts us in control of our existence and makes us independent of anyone’s goodness and bounty, even God’s. On the other hand it delivers to us a purposeless existence. Reality just is. It has no purpose or goal. There is nothing good or evil, there is nothing pure or impure, there is no teleological reward or punishment.
This is not to say that scientists are amoral. We are not referring to people. We are contrasting systems of knowledge with each other, not their adherents.

Now let us turn our attention to the people, particularly the Jewish people. The Greek Diaspora that the Chanukah Holiday commemorates witnessed the rise of a social development within the Jewish people that has been with us ever since, the birth of the ‘mityavnim’ [literally Greekophiles]. Judaism is a very demanding religion and throughout history there have been Jews who have abandoned Jewish customs and traditions in whole or in part for all sorts of reasons. But ‘mityavnim’ were people who abandoned their Judaism not because they found it too burdensome or demanding but because they found Greek culture more attractive than their own.
According to Jewish tradition, the most powerful spiritual drive built into man is the drive for independence. Judaism teaches that God created this world so that man could earn his eternal reward through free choice and enjoy the fruits of his efforts through eternity without being beholden or dependant on anyone. Spiritual drives certainly manifest themselves in Jews as powerfully as in anyone. Faced with a system of knowledge that offered instant independence and self reliance, large numbers of Jews eagerly embraced the new knowledge and rejected the knowledge contained in their own Oral law, which offers them independence in the long run, but only at the price of agreeing to live as God’s dependants in the meanwhile.
Unfortunately, for Jews, this attitude has a major downside that does not exist for other people.

The story of Chanukah is a story of ‘mesirat nefesh,’ of the willingness to sacrifice one’s life for the sake of one’s beliefs. The Chanukah story teaches us that in Judaism, mesirat nefesh is not some lofty spiritual level that is open to the meritorious. Judaism without the willingness to be ‘moser nefesh’ is a non-starter.
To bring this down to earth a bit, let us imagine that we were Italians instead of Jews, and someone asked us to convert to being Frenchmen or die. We would surely think to ourselves along the following lines. If I died for remaining Italian instead of being French or English what value would I be protecting? Is there anything to being an Italian per se other than the language and culture? If there is not, the existence of Italians as a distinct group merely contributes to the enrichment of the human rainbow. No doubt this contribution makes the world a more colorful place. Is that worth dying for? Probably not.
But for the very reason that there is nothing rationally to die for in remaining an Italian, threatening Italians with death unless they agree to become Frenchmen is not a common threat. The lack of a powerful issue renders the subject of Italian-ness unworthy of serving as a subject for intense human conflict.
Being simply Jewish is no different than being Italian. Jews are not a distinct racial group. Yet Jews have been under attack for simply being Jews for the past twenty-five hundred years. What is so important about being Jewish?

We have hit upon the problem of Jewish ‘mityavnim.’ Being Jewish is important only because of the special knowledge that we Jews have to offer the world. Inasmuch as our spiritual era concerns the struggle between the two systems of knowledge, the system represented by the Oral law, versus the system represented by Greek culture, and whereas we Jews are the sole repositories of the system of knowledge represented by the Oral law, we are very important indeed. The track that leads back to Sinai can only be followed through the Torah. But Jews who embrace the other knowledge are as necessary to the world as the Italians in our example. They merely add color.
And that precisely is the tragedy of the Jewish ‘mityavnim.’ The nations never accept the Jewish abandonment of Judaism. Whether Jews prefer the foreign culture to their own or not, in the eyes of the world they remain members of the Jewish people who are truly unique in terms of embodying the very system of knowledge to which the ‘mityavnim’ no longer subscribe. The ‘mityavnim’ may regard themselves as no different than Italians but they still come under attack. Their suffering is especially tragic because they have no way to comprehend the reason for it.

God is the protector of Israel because the Jewish soul is the wick in the oil of the Jewish mind to which the bright flame of the knowledge of His Torah attaches and allows it to cast God’s light in the world. Because being Jewish is important, it requires ‘mesirat nefesh.’
The relationship between Judaism and mesirat nefesh is an equation that can be read in both directions. People who are killed for being Jews in the Jewish land of Israel, which has become Judaism’s earthly expression, are dying for the preservation of the Jewish people. This preservation is only important for one reason, the preservation of the Knowledge of the Oral Law. The victims of terrorism are dying for the preservation of the Oral law. They are being asked to be ‘moser nefesh’ for Torah.
God is our guardian, but we are the guardians of His light. When we abandon our post, he abandons His, and compels us to return to ours.


Cheshvan 5764 – El Nino and the Mabul

Cheshvan 5764


By: Rabbi Doniel Baron

When El Nino appears over the Pacific every several years, the price of soybeans rises at Shop Rite in New Jersey.

Remember El Nino? It’s a winter weather pattern noticeable over distant oceans. Warm El Nino air causes the temperature to rise just below the surface of the sea, causing coldwater fish to migrate to deeper, cooler, waters. A major type of cattle feed is commonly made from such fish, which become more scarce and difficult to catch. Due to the decreased supply of fish, ranchers opt to serve their herd a soy based mixture instead, increasing the demand for soybeans, and ultimately, the price. El Nino also has a habit of causing strange weather patterns worldwide and is blamed for everything from monsoons to storms in New England.

Living in today’s world, it’s easy to imagine how an event in the middle of nowhere could have a major impact on the rest of the world. Or how a few fanatic sheiks hidden in a rocky Afghan mountain pass could devise a plan that could and did change the world forever. Or how a simple electrical failure in the Great Lakes could knock the lights out from Manhattan to Ontario.

Which brings us, of course, to the mabul. Chazal tell us that the world as it existed was obliterated “ki hishchis kol basar es darko al haaretz,” because all flesh corrupted its ways on the land. Chazal regularly interpret the word “hashchasa” as referring to giluy arayos, immoral behavior. Sure, the people were immoral, but what did the animals do to deserve death ? The Midrash (Midrash Rabba 28:8) explains that even the animals were corrupted and mated with other species. Without addressing the culpability of animals, one wonders what the dog saw in the wolf and what attracted the chicken to the peacock! It’s just not normal for animals to mate outside their own kind and it is difficult to understand how all the animals could be so strangely inclined.

The Beis Halevi explains that it all boils down to the astounding metaphysical power of man. When a person repeats an aveira we say hergel naaseh teva, repeated action becomes second nature, and after a while, the aveira becomes mere habit regardless of whether the person intellectually knows the action is wrong. (Ever notice how hard it is when you focus on not speaking lashon hora for a specific time period ?) When one does the action in public, it makes it more palatable for those observing to do the aveira. (Again, consider a conversation in which one participant begins saying lashon hora.) The Beis Halevi reveals that even when one does an aveira in private, he strengthens the force of evil in the world and increases the yetzer hara for others to do the same sin ! In other words, the actions of man have an impact on the nature of the world. Indeed, it was the immoral actions of man in the dor hamabul that corrupted the rest of the physical world to the point that even the animals felt the impact of man’s destructive behavior. The world itself was so twisted that it needed to be erased and begun anew.

If the faraway El Nino wreaks so much havoc, imagine the effect that millions of people engaged in maasim raim have on the world. “Vayar Elokim es haaretz vehinei nishchahsa,” Hashem saw the land and behold it was corrupt. The land itself was corrupt, notes the Beis Halevi, as a direct result of the actions of man.

The message to us is a powerful one, because the power of man works both ways. Every mitzva we do breathes kedusha into our world bringing it closer to the goal of “lesaken olam bemalchus shakai,” to “fix” the world rendering it in the kingdom of Hashem. A mitzva done privately by a Jew in Johannesburg increases the desire of a Jew in London to do the mitzva. But the converse, as we’ve mentioned, is also true…

It is up to us to capitalize on the unbelievable power that Hashem gave us to affect all of creation. We need to realize the consequences of our most private actions, and to bring the world closer to Hashem, deed by deed.


Tishrei 5764 – A New Year Which Is Really New

29 Elul 5763, Erev Rosh Hashana 5764

From the desk of Rabbi J. Kagan, Midreshet Tehillah

A New Year which is Really New

In a Calvin and Hobbes comic strip depicting the New Year, a snowman (their new year comes in winter) is pictured gazing forward, clearly striding into the future. Calvin tells us this snowman represents the spirit of the New Year, looking ahead with confidence and determination, challenging, inventing, calling forth the best qualities of drive and ingenuity. Calvin then turns around and we see two other snowmen laughing hysterically at the first snowman, another three asleep under a tree and a final pair obviously involved in slanderous gossip. Hobbes says, “And over here is the real world?” To which Calvin replies, “Right, this is why we’re always glad when the old year is over.”

As our New Year approaches it holds much hope. But those who are back in chutz l’aretz after a year or two in Yerushalayim may not anticipate much that is new in the coming New Year. If you have been away from Israel for some time you may already be deflated by the weight of a wearying time that was spiritually drab. The routine of school or work may have set into your life; perhaps you are involved in a process of shidduchim that seems endless and to be going nowhere. The revitalizing input of rabbis and rebbetzins in seminary is gone, as is the immediacy of friends focused only on growth. The inspiration of Yerushalayim seems spent, next year looks to be a continuation of this one, and there is little to look forward to which inspires.

We have to realize that when we leave Yerushalayim we enter a world, which is dominated by the culture of Esav. In Esav’s world, time goes around and around. Each moment causes the next and, therefore, the future is nothing more than an extension of the past. Nothing can be really new.

While it is true that everything in this world simply goes around and around-there is nothing new under the sun (Koheles 1:9)-above the sun there is only freshness and renewal. The ability to truly change requires the ability to connect with that realm which is beyond this one. When we connect ourselves to that world, open ourselves to the part of us which is in there-our neshamahs-we can become someone different. Genuine change of self and circumstances is dependent upon connection to that place. The recognition of something beyond this world, or at least of the ability to bring it into our lives, distinguishes Yaakov from Esav, Israel from the West.

The severity of the West’s rejection of the importance of this other world is clear from the actions of its forefather Esav. Esav sold his right of the first born, to act as the kohen officiating over the connection with that other world, to Yaakov for beans. It is significant that the beans he took for the kehunah were prepared for a mourner. Round foods are given to mourners because their roundness symbolizes the inevitability of the repetitious cycles of physical life, epitomized by death. Life only goes around and around, always finishing in death.

We die because we are physical beings. The physical world of inevitability and causality is an aspect of life. But its true purpose is to act as a medium through which we connect to the spiritual realms of infinite possibility. In recognition of the fact that at a time of death our crushing sorrow makes it hard to remember or connect with the spiritual realm of life and meaning we eat round beans. But we only do so in a period of mourning. Afterwards, we regain balance and perspective and recover our connection to the living realm of the neshamah and spirituality.

Esav, however, eats the round beans because he is hungry–to sustain himself, not to mourn. For Esav’s world is defined by the cyclical inevitability of a causal physical world. His life is a journey from non-existence to death. He cannot connect to the realm beyond this one, to the realm which allows for what a Jew calls life, the ability to initiate change.

As we approach Rosh HaShanah, we need to strengthen our connection to the realm beyond this one and the parts of ourselves resident there in order to make Rosh HaShanah the beginning of something new-a rosh which begins a new year and not a zanav which continues the previous one. Our primary tools are tshuvah, tefillah, and tzedakah. Tshuvah not limited to regret of previous actions, but as the embrace of a deeper self attached to Ha-Shem. Tefillah not as words, but as the heartfelt request for the impossible coupled with full conviction that the impossible is possible. And tzedakah, not as an isolated act, but as a transformation of self into a giver, as a person who initiates from herself rather than merely receiving or reacting to her surroundings. Underlying all of these, of course, is our connection to Torah–Torah not as a passing vort, but as a window on another dimension of existence.

Any one of these-tshuvah, tefillah, or tzedakah–can be the path to recovering our connection to a realm beyond the drab, unchanging world to which Esav has confined us. Any one of them can bring us to the rosh of a year which is truly new with all its infinite possibilities. We are not looking for the resolve to make big changes which usually end in frustration. We are looking for the small changes which are real. For the mere fact of true change puts us in a completely different category, entering us into a world in which change is both possible and in process. That is our escape from the world of Esav and our entry into a world that truly has a rosh.