Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Month of Adar: C’mon Get Happy

The Mishna in Ta’anit tells us that with the arrival of the month of Adar comes an increase in joy. But what’s to get happy about?

The Sfat Emet teaches that Adar is a time for awakening one’s love for Hashem. Just as Elul, the month before Tishrei and Rosh Hashanah, is a time for tshuva (repentance), so too the month of Adar is a special time for tshuva, since Nissan also marks a beginning of the year.

But there is a substantial difference between these two types of tshuva. During Elul our tshuva is driven by awe; during Adar, it is driven by love.

Adar is not about fear of judgment, but rather about a desire to be close to our Creator.

Rav Yitzhak Luria, known as the Ari of Tsfat, taught that Yom Kippur is Yom Ke-Purim, i.e., the day that is likened to Purim. In other words, Yom Kippur, a day in which Hashem wipes the slate clean from all our misdeeds, takes a back seat to Purim. How can this be?

In the Sfat Emet we see an answer. A relationship based on fear or awe is not a complete relationship. Imagine a marriage in which the spouse is only fulfilling his or her obligations out of a feeling of fear. Obviously this is a relationship in dire straits. So too with our relationship with Hashem; if our whole desire to come close is only out of obligation or fear of punishment, the relationship is on shaky ground.

Adar is a time to focus on all the good and blessing that fills our lives, and how we want to be close to the Source of that blessing. There is no room for misdeeds when this is our focus. And as our sages teach, there is no greater joy then experiencing closeness to Hashem.

Here are some practical ways in which to feel this joy and closeness:

¨ Before you go to bed at night, write down three things that happened that day for which you feel thankful to Hashem.

¨ Find a quiet place to talk to Hashem. Speak freely about specific positive events that have happened to you recently.

¨ Take an extra moment in your daily prayers to close your eyes and take a breath, and to focus on the source of that breath. Alternatively, during prayer put your hands on your chest, and feel the warmth and life that radiates from your body.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

The Moment after Receiving the Torah

The transition between the Torah’s description of the national revelation at Mt. Sinai to the bulleted list of property laws listed immediately afterwards is jarring.

Imagine the scene at Mt. Sinai: the sages tell us that we were like a unified body in our mutual desire to receive the Torah. God reveals Himself to the nation; it was an event that, according to the Zohar, caused their souls to literally leave their body.

It was the absolute height of spirituality.

Then, in the next moment, Moshe enrolled the nation in Tort Law 101. We learn about indentured servitude, personal damages, property damage, etc. Where’s the transition? What happened to the spiritual experience, to the oneness?

The Ramban, in his first comment on Mishpatim, explains that the laws elucidated in the adjacent section are a translation of the last of the Ten Commandments, i.e., the prohibition of coveting.

Says the Ramban, if it were not for the property laws listed directly after the prohibition of coveting, you would not know what is yours and what is not. Therefore the Torah has to describe the parameters of ownership.

Spirituality can be defined as engaging with the entity that created and gives life to all of creation. A moment when one experiences this greater reality can alter one’s life. I remember distinctly a Shabbat meal where a friend shared a moving experience during his first trip to the Western Wall, where he felt “so connected.” That moment opened him up to further exploration of his Judaism and to pursue a life in Israel.

True, tasting the oneness can provide a high like none other. However, it is not the end goal. Jewish spirituality values both the concept of oneness, along with well-defined boundaries. We must develop a clear sense of self, as well as maintain the consciousness of our greater context. The awareness of this paradox prevents perversions of spirituality that violate healthy borders in all types of relationships.