The Way of Teshuvah/Return

The Way of Teshuvah/Return

To err is human, we all make mistakes. “There is no righteous person on this earth who does [only] good and does not err,” the wise King Shlomo wrote.

In this article:

  • Regret and acceptance
  • Four types of teshuvah
  • Verbal confession
  • Yom Kippur: a day of teshuvah
  • The Day of Atonement
  • Shabbat Shabbaton
  • A day of transcendence, a time of immanence

And yet despite the fallibility of human beings, as a tremendous kindness, God has given us teshuvah—a way of returning to God by acknowledging our errors and resolving not to repeat them. This is not only a way to repair our mistakes but perhaps even to alter the past. Without teshuvah, life would be quite hopeless. Without a means to unshackle ourselves from our negative past, we would be forever crushed by the burdens of our past errors.

Teshuvah is essential for creation; in fact teshuvah was fashioned before the actual creation, according to the Talmud (Pesachim 54a.) The Zohar writes that prior to creating this physical world, the Creator conceived the notion of teshuvah and said, “Soon, I am going to create mortal human beings, but I do so on one condition: when they, because of their iniquities, turn to you, you must be prepared to erase their faults.”

A world imbued with teshuvah is a world of optimism, life and genuine opportunity, for regardless of our current state, we have the power to reorient our life and leap over any obstacles generated by our past deeds. teshuvah affords us the freedom to liberate ourselves from the past and begin anew, rejuvenated and revitalized.

Regret and acceptance

Classic Torah commentaries contend that the principal ingredients of teshuvah are regret-charata and acceptance-kabbalah.

True regret requires a recognition of the negative act and a firm resolution – made consciously and with a whole heart — not to repeat it.

But we know well that we tend to forget our resolutions. Indeed, forgetfulness is the root cause of transgression. Often, were it not for assistance from above to overcome our negative temptations, which are so good at causing memory lapses, we would not succeed, as the Talmud tells us (Kiddushin 30b). Therefore, it is essential to always keep in mind that we are sinners – and always close to falling into transgression – and that God alone constantly rescues us.

But how can we, realizing that our sin is so deeply ingrained, have true regret over the past? So, too, how can we resolve not to sin in the future, when our experience shows clearly that without God’s help, we will certainly lapse again?

In truth, remorse over the past indicates an acute awareness of our lowliness – an awareness which must be engraved in the heart. In fact, the Hebrew word charatah, meaning “remorse” is related to charitah “engraving.” Once this awareness is so engraved, we stand a better chance of never again forgetting our history and slipping. This act of engraving, in turn, creates within our hearts a receptiveness to God’s mercies. Thus we can accept kabbalah, God’s mercy, with an absolute trust that God will save us from the bitterness of our soul and strengthen us to choose wisely in the future.

Four types of teshuvah

Early Jewish works of ethics speak of four categories of teshuvah:

  1. Teshuvat HaBa’ah-literally teshuvah “of what comes next” – this teshuvah that occurs when we refrain from repeating a transgression when we find ourselves in the same condition or environment that had engendered a previous misdeed.
  2. Teshuvat HaGeder-literally teshuvah “of the fence” – in the process of doing teshuvah, we erect for ourselves additional barriers and restrictions so that we may not be tempted to transgress. We deny ourselves even things that are permitted to us so that we will not inadvertently step over the line and fall.
  3. Teshuvat HaMishkol-literally teshuvah “of the measure” – this is penance commensurate to the transgression. We inflict discomfort on ourselves equivalent to the measure of pleasure we had enjoyed from committing the transgression.
  4. Teshuvat HaKatuv-literally teshuvah “of what is written” – we accept upon ourselves the equivalent of the Divine judgment as written and detailed in the Torah.

Teshuvah does not does not necessitate depriving or neglecting the body, according to the Baal Shem Tov — on the contrary, “a small hole in the body is a colossal cavity in the soul.” There are countless other means to refine ourselves such as giving charity or studying Torah. And am even better way is to transform the body so that whatever part of the body one used to commit an offense – a mouth to speak gossip or lie, a hand to strike someone – is re-energized to do good – a mouth to speak words of Torah, a hand to give to charity.

Verbal confession

In addition to regretting past deeds and resolving to do better in the future, most commentators include confession-viddui as another integral component of teshuvah.

Teshuvah is not complete until we articulates what went wrong in the past as well as verbally commit to change in the future. Why is this? Why do we need confession? Why is verbalization so integral to the process?

There are many reasons, but the ones we will explore here are related to the Yom Kippur service, where we confess our sins a number of times. On the most basic level, speaking gives voice to our thoughts, thus making them clearer, crystallized and structured. By articulating our thoughts, we unveil a deeper understanding of the matter at hand. Thoughts, as they exist in the mind, can remain elusive and unstructured. However, when these same thoughts “descend” into articulated language, they become comprehensible and coherent.

What’s more, not only do thoughts become clearer and more comprehensive when spoken aloud, they also become more of a reality. Words create our reality. When something is verbalized it seems to us all the more real.

Verbalization of teshuvah works the same way. Until our thoughts of teshuvah that germinate in the mind are verbalized, they remain elusive and vague. Through speaking about it and concretizing our repentance, our regret and resolve become all the stronger. Speaking endows the thoughts of change with a tangible reality, and the thoughts then attain permanence.

Additionally, “voice arouses intention,” which is a principle regarding the verbalization of all prayers and the reason why prayer is spoken and not left in the mind. It is through the verbalization of teshuvah that our inner feelings of wanting to return to God are revealed. The more we speak about a feeling of the heart, the more augmented and real the feeling becomes, and our teshuvah becomes more intense. What’s more, even if we had not yet resolved to undertake the journey to transform, our speaking about it will eventually bring us to do it.

Yom Kippur: a day of teshuvah

Yom Kippur was chosen as a day of teshuvah because it was the original day of forgiveness at the time of the birth of the Jewish nation.

A mere six weeks following the monumental encounter with God at Sinai, when the absolute oneness of the Creator was clear to the Israelites, they danced around the golden calf and proclaimed, “this is the god that took us out of Egypt.” Forty days of prayers elicited for them forgiveness, and then Moshe went up the mountain again for forty days, and when he descended this time, with the second set of tablets, he found a people eagerly awaiting his return and the Torah he was bringing.

That day was the tenth day of the seventh month of Tishrei, the day to be designated by the Torah as Yom Kippur.

Yom Kippur became the one day of the year that embodies the concept of teshuvah most intensely. In the words of the Rambam – Maimonides: “Though teshuvah is appropriate at all times of the year, during the ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur it is more appropriate, and it is accepted immediately. Yom Kippur itself is a time of teshuvah for all, and it is a cessation of forgiveness and absolution for the people of Israel.” (Hilchos Teshuvah 2: 6-7)

The Day of Atonement

“The essence of the day of Yom Kippur brings atonement,” the Talmud declares (Yuma). The day of Yom Kippur calls forth sublime measures of holiness, which are able to eclipse and eliminate all transgressions. Although the Talmudic sages wage a debate – as to whether or not the day itself absolves us even when we don’t do teshuvah — all opinions are in agreement that the essence of the day itself brings atonement. The debate is limited to the question whether the individual must set in motion this process through active participation by doing teshuvah, or if the day atones through mere passive participation by desiring teshuvah. What sense would it make to forgive an individual who makes no effort and doesn’t even desire forgiveness?

Therefore, the bare minimum is needed – that is, we must be at least passively accepting of forgiveness, and we must not interfere with the healing power of Yom Kippur. But, in order to achieve a complete and total teshuvah, we need to partake fully in the teshuvah process. Genuine teshuvah is attained when we can fuse the inspiration from above with the perspiration from below-when the lofty levels that are revealed from on high permeate and lodge deeply into our consciousness, becoming part of our every day reality.

Shabbat Shabbaton

Yom Kippur includes both these aspects: 1) it is a time when “the essence of the day brings atonement” as a revelation of unconditional love from above; 2) it is a time when we have reached the full potential of our own activities, beginning with the introspection during the month of Elul, and culminating with the end of the “ten days of awe.”

These two complimentary ideas are alluded to in the two verses in the Torah which mention Yom Kippur as a day that is a Shabbat Shabbaton – a Shabbat of total rest:

  1. Shabbat Shabbaton he lachem (Leviticus 16:31), which means “A total day of rest it [literally she] will be to you”
  2. Shabbat Shabbaton hu lachem (Leviticus 23:32), which means “A total day of rest it [literally he] will be to you”

Why twice – the first in feminine form, the second in masculine? The feminine represents the receiver, reflecting the one who is passively receiving revelation from above. The masculine represents a proactive stance. On Yom Kippur there is a melding of the two, beyond duality, beyond separation.

A day of transcendence, a time of immanence

On Yom Kippur, we aspire to operate on a level of transcendence, striving to mimic angelic behavior. Yom Kippur is a day of rest from normative bodily necessities. The restrictions of the day are not meant to bring suffering to the body (if inflicting pain was the intention there would be many much more effective ways of doing so), rather, the focus here is to cease operating in the normative physical sphere and ascend to function angelically. It is a day dedicated to the achievement of transcendence of the physical, as well as a transcendence of all negativity and transgression.

While every other day of the year we may struggle with our own inner Satan, on Yom Kippur, we experience a transcendence of all negativity and deprecation. The Hebrew word for Satan, ha’satan, which describes confining ego-consciousness, has the numerical value of 364. From this we learn that on 364 of 365 days of the year, we may struggle with our ego-oriented self, but on one day — Yom Kippur — we are given the power to completely transcend these limitations and be angelic.

There is a total materialistic transcendence, a “rest” from all things physical as we become angelic. We rest from all physical activities, such as eating, drinking, marital relationships, even from walking/movement, represented by the prohibition against wearing leather shoes. Many have the custom to stand as much as possible during the prayers, also to mimic angelic activity. Just as angels are peaceful towards each other, we too, ask forgiveness from one another. During the course of the prayers, a white robe (kittel) and white prayer shawl (talit) are worn in imitation of angels who “wear” pure white.

On Yom Kippur we recite loudly the Baruch Shem prayer, “Blessed be the name of His glorious kingdom forever and ever,” since Moshe heard this verse of praise from the angels on high and later taught it to the nation of Israel.

And yet, the point of elevation of Yom Kippur is in the downward return, when we are able to bring the inspiration from above into our day-to-day lives here below.

On Yom Kippur, we are advised to remind oneself of the sons of Aharon who died on this day “when they approached God.” According to mystical thought, they transcended in spiritual ecstasy, in a state of “withdrawal without return.” So deep was their sense of transcendence, they were not able to return and so they died. By recalling their deaths, we are reminded that the most important part of the transcendent experience of Yom Kippur is drawing the inspiration down into our everyday reality. To experience a ratzu, an urge and deep will to transcend and be angelic, together with shuve, the capacity to return.

Taken from,

Teshuvah – Return Not Repentance

Teshuvah – Return Not Repentance

Two Different Dynamics

The ten-day period beginning with Rosh HaShanah and climaxing on Yom Kippur is referred to as Aseres Yemei Teshuvah (“the Ten Days of Teshuvah”).1 At this time of year, our service of G‑d is primarily directed toward teshuvah.

The conventional translation of teshuvah as “repentance” restricts its conception to one shared by Western society as a whole. The literal translation of teshuvah — and the concep­tion expressed in our divine service — is “return”.2 A com­parison of the meaning of these two terms through the eyes of the Jewish tradition reflects a radical contrast that sheds light on many aspects of our relationship with G‑d.

Repentance implies a reversal of one’s conduct — a rec­ognition of past shortcomings, and a firm resolution to change in the future.3 The two are interrelated; the awareness of our weaknesses impels us to reorient.

The concept of teshuvah as “return” emphasizes the fun­damental spiritual potential of every person. Chassidic thought teaches that within each of us resides a Divine soul, a spark of G‑d.4 This infinite G‑dly potential represents the core of our souls, our genuine “I”.

From this perspective, sin and evil are superficial ele­ments that can never affect our fundamental nature. Teshuvah means rediscovering our true selves, establishing contact with this G‑dly inner potential and making it the dominant influ­ence in our lives. Seen in this light, our motivation to do teshuvah is not an awareness of our inadequacies, but rather a sensitivity to this infinite potential within our souls.

Returning With Joy

These two different understandings of teshuvah evoke divergent emotions. Repentance is generally associated with sadness, because feelings of regret and remorse play a leading role in prompting a person to change his conduct. Teshuvah, by contrast, is characterized by joy.

A baal teshuvah, one who actualizes his striving for teshu­vah, naturally feels sorrow and remorse over his past mis­takes. His dominant emotion, however, should be joy. For through teshuvah, he renews his connection to G‑d and establishes a bond with his own spiritual potential. This, of necessity, gives rise to happiness. In fact, the absence of hap­piness indicates that a consummate connection has not been established and that more effort is necessary before one’s teshuvah is complete.

Of Universal Relevance

Repentance appears to apply only to a limited range of people. Truly righteous individuals would appear to be beyond the need for repentance, while others might be con­sidered too completely estranged from G‑d to be capable of this religious experience.

Defining teshuvah as “return”, however, broadens the scope of its application. For if teshuvah involves gaining access to one’s true spiritual potential, it applies to all Jews without exception. The same G‑dly spark exists within the soul of every Jew from the most alienated to the most right­eous. This Divine potential is infinite; no force or power can prevent its emergence and expression. Every Jew, regardless of his level, can therefore do teshuvah. No matter how low he has descended, there is nothing that can prevent him from reversing his conduct and establishing a bond with G‑d.

By the same token, no one, not even the most righteous, is above teshuvah. Each of us, even the most spiritually devel­oped, is limited by the very fact of his humanity. Our thoughts and our feelings, as well as our bodies and physical desires, reflect the limitations inherent in creation. Teshuvah allows us to rise above these limitations and establish contact with the unbounded potential of our G‑dly essence. This, in turn, lifts the totality of our experience to a higher rung. Whatever our previous level of divine service, teshuvah can introduce us to a new and higher plane of spiritual awareness and capacity.

For this reason, our Sages teach5 that “perfect tzaddikim (righteous men) cannot stand in the place of a baal teshuvah.” For teshuvah reveals the infinite G‑dly spark within our souls and connects us to G‑d at a level above even the most sublime levels of divine service.6

Recalculating Our Merits

Defining teshuvah as “return” rather than “repentance” also sheds light on the meaning of a problematic Talmudic passage. Our Sages7 state that through teshuvah, all our past transgressions, even those committed intentionally, are trans­formed into merits.

We can appreciate that repentance erases all traces of the past, and that G‑d forgives our sins and allows us to start anew. But how can repentance transform the sin itself, an act performed in defiance of G‑d’s will, into a positive deed? Sin separates a Jew from G‑d.8 How can it become part of a proc­ess of connection?

These questions are valid if we view teshuvah as repent­ance, an opportunity for a new beginning. When we con­ceive of teshuvah as a return to our true selves, however, these difficulties are resolved.

A Jew is never separate from G‑d, even when he sins,9 because the fundamental spiritual bond which links us to G‑d is so strong that even when a conscious relationship appears to have been severed through sin, the inner connection is unaffected and continues to propel us toward teshuvah.

Distance Arouses Desire

Because our connection with G‑d is always intact, sin, as an act of separation, may itself provide the impetus for our fundamental G‑dly nature to surface. The feeling of being outwardly cut off from G‑d may arouse a thirst for a more intense bond with Him.10

Though every sinful act is a direct rebellion against G‑d’s desires, when considered as a phase in a progression leading to teshuvah, sin can be seen as a motivating force, directing a person to establish a deeper and more powerful relationship with G‑d. In fact, the connection with G‑d established through teshuvah is more profound and more intense than that experienced beforehand.11

All-Encompassing Oneness

Every element of our world exists for the fundamental purpose of revealing G‑dliness.12 Certain elements of creation reveal G‑dliness overtly; other elements reveal G‑d’s Omni­presence indirectly. For example, the observance of mitzvos straightforwardly demonstrates that the material can be joined in a bond of oneness with G‑d. The cycle of sin and teshuvah unfolds the ultimate truth of G‑dliness, but in a dif­ferent manner.

When a person first sins and then feels motivated to reject this behavior, these two steps, taken together, serve as a pow­erful affirmation of G‑dliness, demonstrating that nothing, not even sin, can stand in the way of man’s connection to G‑d. The sinner’s act of return shows the infinite power of his G‑dly soul, and reveals how it will overcome all obstacles in its natural drive for self-expression.

The unique bond with G‑d established through teshuvah has repercussions far beyond an individual’s personal sphere. As the Rambam states,13 “Israel will be redeemed only through teshuvah. The Torah has promised that ultimately Israel will return towards the end of her exile, and immediately she will be redeemed.” May this take place in the immediate future.

Adapted from Likkutei Sichos, Vol. II, Shabbos Shuvah;Vol. V, Parshas Lech Lecha

1. Cf. Rosh HaShanah 18a.
2. Cf. Likkutei Torah, Parshas Chukas, p. 74a; Parshas Haazinu, p. 71c.
3. Cf. Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Teshuvah 2:2.
4. Cf. Tanya, ch. 2.
5. Berachos 34b, as cited by the Rambam (Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Teshuvah 7:4).
6. This concept is connected with the coming of the Redemption, for the Zohar (III, 153b; see also Likkutei Torah, Shir HaShirim, p. 50b) teaches that Mashiach will motivate tzaddikim to turn to G‑d in teshuvah. No matter how complete their divine service, the unbounded dimensions of G‑dliness to be revealed in the Era of the Redemption will make them realize their limitations and will call forth a corre­sponding revelation of the infinite potential that their souls possess.
7. Yoma 86b; cf. Tanya, ch. 7.
8. Cf. Yeshayahu 59:2.
9. Cf. end of ch. 24 of Tanya.
10. Cf. Tanya, ch. 7.
11. As stated above, “Perfect tzaddikim (‘righteous men’) cannot stand in the place of baalei teshuvah.” It goes without saying that one may not initiate a cycle of sin and teshuvah in order to attain this intense bond. As our Sages teach (Yoma 85a), “He who says, ‘I will sin and I will repent,’ is not granted the opportunity to repent.”

To borrow a term from our Sages (Makkos 7b), sin is “a descent for the sake of ascent.” By nature, a Jew is above sin. Thus our Sages (Avodah Zarah 4b ff.) were able to state that certain sins “were not appropriate” to the Jewish people as a whole, or to particular individuals; they seemed to be out of character.

Why, then, did these sinful acts take place? — Because G‑d wanted to raise the people as a whole or the particular individuals involved to a higher level, and the only way this was possible was through their first undergoing the descent of sin.
In this context, chassidic thought paraphrases Tehillim 66:5 and describes sin as “an awesome intrigue devised against man.” When a person’s Yetzer HaRa over­comes him and makes him sin, this is because it was prompted from Above to bring him to this act. Through this “awesome intrigue,” G‑d can bring man to the deeper and more intense bond that is established through teshuvah. (See the Sichos of Shabbos Parshas Ki Sisa, 5752.)

12. Cf. Pirkei Avos 6:11.

13. Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Teshuvah 7:5; cf. Sanhedrin 97b.

The Ten Days of Teshuvah, by Rabbi Sacks

Adapted by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks; From the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe

The following Sicha is about the difficulties of translation itself. The act of translation assumes that for every word in one language, equivalents can be found in another. But this may be untrue, especially when we are dealing with ideas that are central and unique to Judaism. We may then fall into the error of equating a Jewish idea with one drawn from another culture when the two are in fact dissimilar, even opposite. This is the case with the three words constantly on our minds during the Ten Days of Teshuvah. In English they are repentance, prayer and charity. How far these differ from their Jewish counterparts—teshuvah, tefillah and tzedakah—the Rebbe emphatically explains.

1. The Service of the Ten Days

We express the hope that on Rosh Hashanah G-d blessed us with a “good and sweet year” to come, a year made fruitful by children, health and sustenance.

But there is no limit to goodness and blessing. Thus, during the Ten Days of Teshuvah we have the opportunity through our service, to cause G-d to grant us yet greater benefits from His “full and expansive hand.”

What is this service? It is, as we say in our prayers, “repentance, prayer and charity” which avert evil and bring the good. But the words “repentance, prayer and charity” are misleading. By thus translating the Hebrew terms teshuvah, tefillah and tzedakah, we are led into a false comparison of these three elements of the religious life as they exist in Judaism and outside it.

In fact, there are crucial differences. Teshuvah is not repentance. Tefillah is not prayer. And tzedakah is not charity.

2. Teshuvah and Repentance

“Repentance” in Hebrew is not teshuvah but charatah. Not only are these two terms not synonymous. They are opposites.

Charatah implies remorse or a feeling of guilt about the past and an intention to behave in a completely new way in the future. The person decides to become “a new man.” But teshuvah means “returning” to the old, to one’s original nature. Underlying the concept of teshuvah is the fact that the Jew is, in essence, good. Desires or temptations may deflect him temporarily from being himself, being true to his essence. But the bad that he does is not part of, nor does it affect, his real nature. Teshuvah is a return to the self. While repentance involves dismissing the past and starting anew, teshuvah means going back to one’s roots in G-d and exposing them as one’s true character.

For this reason, while the righteous have no need to repent, and the wicked may be unable to, both may do teshuvah.1 The righteous, though they have never sinned, have constantly to strive to return to their innermost. And the wicked, however distant they are from G-d, can always return, for teshuvah does not involve creating anything new, only rediscovering the good that was always within them.

3. Tefillah and Prayer

“Prayer” in Hebrew is not tefillah but bakashah. And again these terms are opposites. Bakashah means to pray, request, beseech. But tefillah means, to attach oneself.2

In bakashah the person asks G-d to provide him, from above, with what he lacks. Therefore when he is not in need of anything, or feels no desire for a gift from above, bakashah becomes redundant.

But in tefillah the person seeks to attach himself to G-d. It is a movement from below, from man, reaching towards G-d. And this is something appropriate to everyone and at every time.

The Jewish soul has a bond with G-d. But it also inhabits a body, whose preoccupation with the material world may attenuate that bond. So it has constantly to be strengthened and renewed. This is the function of tefillah. And it is necessary for every Jew. For while there may be those who do not lack anything and thus have nothing to request of G-d, there is no-one who does not need to attach himself to the source of all life.

4. Tzedakah and Charity

The Hebrew for “charity” is not tzedakah but chessed. And again these two words have opposite meanings.

Chessed, charity, implies that the recipient has no right to the gift and that the donor is under no obligation to give it. He gives it gratuitously, from the goodness of his heart. His act is a virtue rather than a duty.

On the other hand tzedakah means righteousness or justice. The implication is that the donor gives because it is his duty. For, firstly, everything in the world belongs ultimately to G-d. A man’s possessions are not his by right. Rather, they are entrusted to him by G-d, and one of the conditions of that trust is that he should give to those who are in need. Secondly, a man has a duty to act towards others as he asks G-d to act towards him. And as we ask G-d for His blessings though He owes us nothing and is under no obligation, so we are bound in justice to give to those who ask us, even though we are in no way in their debt. In this way we are rewarded: Measure for measure. Because we give freely, G-d gives freely to us.

This applies in particular to the tzedakah which is given to support the institutions of Torah learning. For everyone who is educated in these institutions is a future foundation of a house in Israel, and a future guide to the coming generation. This will be the product of his tzedakah—and his act is the measure of his reward.

5. Three Paths

These are the three paths which lead to a year “written and sealed” for good.

By returning to one’s innermost self (teshuvah), by attaching oneself to G-d (tefillah) and by distributing one’s possessions with righteousness (tzedakah), one turns the promise of Rosh Hashanah into the abundant fulfillment of Yom Kippur: A year of sweetness and plenty.

(Source: Likkutei Sichot, Vol. II pp. 409-411)

1. Cf. Kuntres Bikkur Chicago, p. 23.
2. Cf. Rashi, Bereishit 30:8; Or Hatorah, Vayechi, 380a.

As taken from,

La plegaria de Jana

No hay nada en este mundo que no contenga una chispa Divina

Algunas personas ven al ser humano como una criatura solitaria en un universo indiferente, y hasta hostil. Si vieran un poco más profundamente, verían que los dos son en esencia uno solo: el alma del hombre es Divina y el alma del universo es Di-s. Solo en su expresión externa aparece un conflicto o surge aquello que aparenta indiferencia. Pero interiormente, es una historia de amor, un abrazo eterno, inseparable. Un drama que el Rey Salomón titula el “Cantar de los Cantares”, porque es lo que yace en el núcleo de cada canción, en cada expresión humana y en el cosmos entero: el anhelo de reunirse, de ser uno, de crear una armonía en el mundo exterior que coincida con la unión perfecta que se encuentra por debajo.

Esto, también, es obra de la plegaria: Tenemos nuestras preocupaciones. Di-os parece tan distante de ellas. Hay un gran abismo entre nuestro mundo y el suyo. Pero luego nos dice, “Háblame de lo que te molesta. Dime con todo tu corazón lo que deseas y te escucharé. Porque lo que es importante para ti es importante para mí. Háblame. Quiero vivir en tu mundo”.

El abismo se une y se funde. Lo externo y lo interno, lo elevado y lo bajo, lo espiritual y lo físico, sagrado y mundano, cielo y tierra, se besan y se transforman en uno.

Hay una condición, sin embargo, para la curación de los corazones de los amantes: primero, tenemos que encontrar la santidad interior que hay detrás de nuestros propios deseos y conflictos. Porque no hay nada en este mundo que no contenga una chispa Divina, y no hay movimiento del alma sin un propósito Divino.

Solo una vez que hemos construido esta paz dentro de nosotros mismos, entre nuestras almas interiores y nuestros deseos exteriores, entre el santuario de nuestros corazones y las palabras de nuestros labios, solo entonces podremos crear esa paz cósmica entre la Esencia de Todo Ser y nuestro ocupado mundo material.

Es por esto que la plegaria es llamada a lo largo de los Salmos “una efusión del alma”. Aquello que se encuentra en el interior, se derrama hacia afuera sin un dique que lo obstruya ni barro que lo manche, nada que lo cambie en su camino. El mundo entero se puede estar desgarrando en las costuras, pero el corazón del suplicante y sus labios están en paz como uno solo. Y luego, esta paz se esparce hacia afuera en todas las cosas.

Hay muchas cosas que aprendemos de la plegaria de Jana (narrada en Samuel I, capítulo 1, y leída como haftará en el primer día de Rosh Hashaná). Aprendemos que nuestros labios se deben mover en la plegaria, que debemos poder escuchar nuestras palabras, pero nadie más debe oírlas. Aprendemos que la plegaria se debe decir de pie.

Pero lo más importante, aprendemos cómo derramar nuestra alma.

Eli pensó que Jana estaba borracha de vino. Él era el sumo sacerdote, el más sagrado de los miembros de la nación judía. El espíritu divino se posó sobre él, y así él era capaz de ver dentro de los corazones de los hombres y mujeres. Sin embargo, vio a Jana como una borracha, ebria, con un deseo terrenal, el deseo de un niño para no sufrir más la vergüenza y el ridículo que recibía de Penina.

Pero Jana respondió: “No, no es el vino, sino que es mi alma la que se derrama frente a Di-s. Porque mi deseo por un hijo tiene un propósito y significado más allá de las búsquedas e insensateces del hombre. Mi hijo, la joya preciosa del deseo de mi corazón, ya se lo entregué a Di-s”.

Lo mismo sucede con nuestras oraciones, rezamos por las cosas materiales, pero no es lo materialsino lo espiritual que hay dentro de ellos, lo que nuestra alma desea.

La misión de cada ser humano es traer todas las cosas de este mundo caótico hacia una armonía con el propósito interior y la unidad que subyace en ellas. Para hacer esto, cada uno de nosotros debe tener aquellas cosas en relación con nuestra misión: nuestra familia, nuestra salud, nuestros hogares, nuestros ingresos. Rezamos por ellas desde lo más profundo de nuestro corazón, nuestra alma se derrama por ellas, porquesabe que, sin ellas, no puede cumplir su misión en el mundo.

Y Di-s escucha. Porque Él quiere vivir en nuestro mundo terrenal.

Según tomado de,

The World is Waiting for You

by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks

Something remarkable happens in this week’s parsha, almost without our noticing it, that changed the very terms of Jewish existence, and has life-changing implications for all of us. Moses renewed the covenant. This may not sound dramatic, but it was.

Thus far, in the history of humanity as told by the Torah, God had made three covenants. The first, in Genesis 9, was with Noah, and through him, with all humanity. I call this the covenant of human solidarity. According to the sages it contains seven commands, the sheva mitzvoth bnei Noach, most famous of which is the sanctity of human life: “He who sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for in the image of God did God make man” (Gen. 9:6).

The second, in Genesis 17, was with Abraham and his descendants: “When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to him and said, ‘I am God Almighty. Walk before Me and have integrity, and I will grant My covenant between Me and you … I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you throughout the generations as an eternal covenant.’” That made Abraham the father of a new faith that would not be the faith of all humanity but would strive to be a blessing to all humanity: “Through you all the families of the earth will be blessed.”

The third was with the Israelites in the days of Moses, when the people stood at Mount Sinai, heard the Ten Commandments and accepted the terms of their destiny as “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”

Who, though, initiated these three covenants? God. It was not Noah, or Abraham, or Moses, or the Israelites who sought a covenant with God. It was God who sought a covenant with humanity.

There is, though, a discernible change as we trace the trajectory of these three events. From Noah God asked no specific response. There was nothing Noah had to do to show that he accepted the terms of covenant. He now knew that there are seven rules governing acceptable human behaviour, but God asked for no positive covenant-ratifying gesture. Throughout the process Noah was passive.

From Abraham, God did ask for a response – a painful one. “This is My covenant which you shall keep between Me and you and your descendants after you: every male among you shall be circumcised. You must circumcise the flesh of your foreskin. This shall be the sign of the covenant between Me and you” (Gen., 17:10-11). The Hebrew word for circumcision is milah, but to this day we call it brit milah or even, simply, brit – which is, of course, the Hebrew word for covenant. God asks, at least of Jewish males, something very demanding: an initiation ceremony.

From the Israelites at Sinai God asked for much more. He asked them in effect to recognise Him as their sole sovereign and legislator. The Sinai covenant came not with seven commands as for Noah, or an eighth as for Abraham, but with 613 of them. The Israelites were to incorporate God-consciousness into every aspect of their lives.

So, as the covenants proceed, God asks more and more of His partners, or to put it slightly differently, He entrusts them with ever greater responsibilities.

Something else happened at Sinai that had not happened before. God tells Moses to announce the nature of the covenant before making it, to see whether the people agree. They do so no less than three times: “Then the people answered as one, saying, ‘All that the Lord has spoken we will do’” (Ex. 19:7). “The people all responded with a single voice, ‘We will do everything the Lord has spoken’” (Ex. 24:3). “The people said, ‘All that the Lord has spoken we will do and heed’” (Ex. 24:7).

This is the first time in history that we encounter the phenomenon enshrined in the American Declaration of Independence, namely “the consent of the governed.” God only spoke the Ten Commandments after the people had signalled that they had given their consent to be bound by His word. God does not impose His rule by force. At Sinai, covenant-making became mutual. Both sides had to agree.

So the human role in covenant-making grows greater over time. But Nitzavim takes this one stage further. Moses, seemingly of his own initiative, renewed the covenant:

All of you are standing today before the Lord your God—your leaders, your tribes, your elders and officials, all the men of Israel, your children, your wives, the strangers in your camp, from woodcutter to water-drawer — to enter into the covenant of the Lord your God and its oath, which the Lord your God is making with you today, to establish you today as His people, that He may be your God, as He promised you and swore to your ancestors, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. (Deut. 29:9-12)

This was the first time that the covenant was renewed, but not the last. It happened again at the end of Joshua’s life (Josh. 24), and later in the days of Jehoiada (2 Kings 11:17),  Hezekiah (2 Chron. 29) and Josiah (1 Kings 23: 1-3; 2 Chron. 34: 29-33). After the Babylonian exile, Ezra and Nehemiah convened a national gathering to renew the covenant (Nehemiah 8). But it happened first in today’s parsha.

It happened because Moses knew it had to happen. The terms of Jewish history were about to shift from Divine initiative to human initiative. This is what Moses was preparing the Israelites for in the last month of his life. It is as if he had said: Until now God has led – in a pillar of cloud and fire – and you have followed. Now God is handing over the reins of history to you. From here on, you must lead. If your hearts are with Him, He will be with you. But you are now no longer children; you are adults. An adult still has parents, as a child does, but his or her relationship with them is different. An adult knows the burden of responsibility. An adult does not wait for someone else to take the first step.

That is the epic significance of Nitzavim, the parsha that stands almost at the end of the Torah and that we read almost at the end of the year. It is about getting ready for a new beginning: in which we act for God instead of waiting for God to act for us.

Translate this into human terms and you will see how life-changing it can be. Many years ago, at the beginning of my rabbinical career, I kept waiting for a word of encouragement from a senior rabbinical figure. I was working hard, trying innovative approaches, seeking new ways of getting people engaged in Jewish life and learning. You need support at such moments because taking risks and suffering the inevitable criticism is emotionally draining. The encouragement never came. The silence hurt. It ate, like acid, into my heart.

Then in a lightning-flash of insight, I thought: what if I turn the entire scenario around. What if, instead of waiting for Rabbi X to encourage me, I encouraged him? What if I did for him what I was hoping he would do for me? That was a life-changing moment. It gave me a strength I never had before.

I began to formulate it as an ethic. Don’t wait to be praised: praise others. Don’t wait to be respected: respect others. Don’t stand on the sidelines, criticising others. Do something yourself to make things better. Don’t wait for the world to change: begin the process yourself, and then win others to the cause. There is a statement attributed to Gandhi (actually he never said it[2], but in a parallel universe he might have done): ‘Be the change you seek in the world.’ Take the initiative.

That was what Moses was doing in the last month of his life, in that long series of public addresses that make up the book of Devarim, culminating in the great covenant-renewal ceremony in today’s parsha. Devarim marks the end of the childhood of the Jewish people.  From there on, Judaism became God’s call to human responsibility. For us, faith is not waiting for God. Faith is the realisation that God is waiting for us.

Hence the life-changing idea: Whenever you find yourself distressed because someone hasn’t done for you what you think they should have done, turn the thought around, and then do it for them.

Don’t wait for the world to get better. Take the initiative yourself. The world is waiting for you.

Shabbat Shalom.


[1] Of course, the Babylonian Talmud argues that at Sinai God did impose the covenant by force, namely by “suspending the mountain” over the people’s heads. But the Talmud then immediately notes that “this constitutes a fundamental challenge to the authority of the Torah” and concludes that the people finally accepted the Torah voluntarily “in the days of Ahasuerus” (Shabbat 88a). The only question, therefore, is: when was there free consent?
[2] See Brian Morton, ‘Falser words were never spoken,’ New York Times, 29 August 2011. The closest he came was, “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. … We need not wait to see what others do.”

As taken from,

Rosh HaShana: Fairy Tales and Humor

by Rabbi Jonathan Lopes Cardozo

Yes, Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur are serious days. They require us to place God in the center of our lives and then to repent and ask forgiveness for our misdeeds.

But, let’s be honest. Many of us know that, however much we try, true repentance probably won’t happen and we’ll just fall back into our old ways. The effort involved in surviving this, year after year without becoming depressed, is nearly brutal. The fact that we keep on trying is an enormous human accomplishment. After all, what is the point of going through the motions only to discover that we are back where we were? It’s torturous!

How does one survive this?

Strangely enough, it’s humor that does the trick.

Here’s how it works. We are all romantics. What this really means is that we are not prepared to be content with our physical and spiritual lives. There is more to life than what we experience, and our goal is to achieve it. There is always a gap between what we want our life to be and what it is in reality.

But sooner or later, a kind of rapprochement develops between the two, which mainly consists of the fact that this lack of contentment with our lives slowly starts to give way to the reality that is forced on us. This process begins the moment we enter primary school. We are completely “authentic” at the start, but we slowly conform to the reality around us and lose our real self. During puberty, it may slow down a bit as a result of adolescent rebellion. But by the time we enter the world of higher education, get married, and become absorbed with “the facts of life,” it begins to be a kind of suit of armor, which we can no longer break out of and which will accompany us for the rest of our earthly existence. The result is often tragic. It’s like painters who believe they have completed a painting and just at the last moment realize that something is lacking. They turn back to have another look at their painting, and while they are sure that the objective of their work has indeed, more or less, been realized, they also know that something essential is missing and that they have somehow overlooked “the real thing.” But as a result of their armor, they cannot discover it. The great Dutch author Willem Bilderdijk (1756-1831) once compared this to an opera singer who gets a lavatory as a room in which to practice. It suffocates him.

But most people do not realize this and live happily in the bathroom wearing their armor. Our society anticipates this and catches us in its net.

Only great souls are aware of this and, often with much effort, throw off their armor and venture outside the bathroom. As a result, they frequently clash with society and are misunderstood. But they are also the ones who move society forward. They realize that they are like prisoners looking through the bars; and once they have seen the garden of their lives, they bend the bars and walk out.

But to do so requires humor.

What is humor?

Humor is that which keeps us laughing, despite everything. Humor is conquered sadness. It is the melancholy that you pierce through and then profit from. It is the affirmation of our superiority over all that goes wrong. It is also the awareness that we live in the midst of continuous absurdity which, if we take a step backwards, makes us realize that even if we attempt to live a life of soberness—using all our faculties of logic, common sense and joy—we will still end up staring at the mystery of living a life we cannot grasp and will never understand no matter how much we’ve convinced ourselves that we have it all “under control.” Humor teaches us that there is meaning behind absurdity, although we can’t figure out what that meaning actually is.

But most of us miss the joke and walk around with a sad face. Interestingly enough, it was the victims of the Holocaust who, under impossible and most cruel circumstances, saw the absurdity of it and sometimes managed to use a wry form of humor regarding their situation, to help see some (religious) meaning behind it.[1] It kept them alive. No one will doubt that this was a phenomenal human accomplishment that only a few could achieve.

A Dutch proverb describes it well: Humor is training for the game of life.

And so, Rosh HaShana is a day of infinite humor, because it confronts us with all the absurdity and foolishness of our life’s ambitions—receiving honor, acquiring money, accumulating material possessions, and more. But we also realize that these ambitions shape our lives with the purpose of having us laugh about them in the presence of God, because it is God who has, strangely enough, created this condition. It is through the everydayness, the trivialities, and the absurdity of human existence that God wants to meet us. Nothing could be more serious, humorous, or odd. It is a type of funfair, but with the misfortune of having a merry-go-round that often becomes badly dislocated, causing people to get hurt and even die.

But that’s not all.

Rosh HaShana asks us to re-crown God and put Him in the center of our lives. It is a festival of uncompromising monotheism, the belief that all that exists is His handiwork and that He is everywhere. He is transcendent, immanent, omnipotent, omniscient and eternal. There is no “Other” but God.

This means that we are trying to crown a Being about Whom we have not the slightest clue. We don’t know Who He is, what He is, and why He does the things He does, which often make no sense, are unacceptable, and even cruel. He is the great Unknown to Whom the words “Exist” and “Is” don’t even apply, since these definitions are sorely deficient.

This is the pinnacle of absurdity and humor. How do you crown a Being when you haven’t the slightest comprehension of who He is, and sometimes even wonder whether He is? It is rather pathetic.

It is this type of paradox that is at the center of Rosh HaShana. We try to accomplish something which, by definition, is completely impossible. So why even try?

Crowning a Being that is not a Whom, a What, or an It, but only an Ein Sof, an “Endless End,” and an Infinite, makes no sense whatsoever. It sounds like a bad joke, like someone is pulling the wool over our eyes on the most serious day of the Jewish year.

And here again is the humor. Rosh HaShana takes us back to our childhood; back to our pre-school innocent authenticity. We are asked not to comply with our maturity, which was developed by our armor during high school and later in life. Rather, we are asked to go back to being romantics, feeling discontent with our lives, and re-experiencing the gap between what we are and what we wanted to achieve before we fell into the “trap” of maturity. This is humor of the highest order.

Which stories are children’s favorites? No doubt fairy tales! And which are the most popular fairy tales? The ones that are completely incomprehensible, in which the impossible takes place: flying animals; houses built on clouds; princes turning into frogs; lions that can speak; wizards and witches who travel on brooms. It is a world in which all definitions, logic, and common sense are violated. But nothing excites a child more than these stories. Why? Because in the fairy tale, the child enters a world where there are no limits, where omnipotence and transcendence are obvious because there is no armor to block them. There is the capacity to believe in something that is impossible and therefore “true” in the realm of eternity. It is the expression of an unlimited “faith capacity” that the child demonstrates.

But there is still more. All fairy tales are about yearning, not fulfillment.[2] The prince has to defeat the seven dragons, after which he must live seven years as a frog before he can marry the princess. This is narrated in great detail. But once he has married the princess, the fairy tale comes to an end. All we are told is that they “lived happily ever after.”

And this is as it should be, because real life begins where the fairy tale ends. The fairy tale is concerned with the engagement. But life deals with the much more difficult task of the marriage between two people, one of which has been a frog for seven years, and the other has slept for a hundred years. In the fairy tale, there is total silence regarding what happens afterwards. It only tells us about the journey, not the arrival.

Paradoxically, this describes our lives. We live a real life only after we have left the fairy tale of our lives. We believe we’ve got it all together. But later in life we suddenly realize that we never left the fairy tale. Until the last day, we are still busy with the journey and realize that we will never arrive. In fact, we don’t even know what this arrival consists of. It is beyond our grasp. And it is exactly that which makes life so exciting. The longing keeps us alive. We may tell ourselves that we have arrived, but we simultaneously realize that the happiness we caught along the journey starts repeating itself now that we have arrived, and the dragon of boredom consumes us. The story then comes to an end.

Many mature people, especially those who have religious souls, experience this when they sing religious songs with fervor and devotion but have not the slightest clue what these songs mean. They are on a journey and are longing to understand, but they know it will never fully happen.

One just has to think about the Jewish women and men who say their daily kapitel tehillim (chapter of psalms) while, for the most part, having not the slightest clue what these psalms actually mean; or, the Jewish children who are asked to sing Anim Zemirot (an almost incomprehensible kabbalistic song) in the synagogue on Shabbat morning. They will sing the song with great devotion, knowing that it touches on something most holy, far beyond their comprehension. The synagogue members who respond to the children with every second verse also have no clue about what they are singing, but in no way does this lessen its spiritual meaning. In fact, it only adds, because it is pure. It is the journey that keeps them fascinated. The armor of maturity has been thrown off, and the impossible becomes possible, but still incomprehensible.

The same takes place in church, where people sing Latin Gregorian songs without knowing a word of Latin and where the translation is even more unintelligible. They do this in an uncomplicated but most devoted way, with the conviction that something enormous is at stake. And this is true.

In all these cases, the songs are fairytale-like and consequently of utmost beauty.

This is certainly not a plea for singing only religious songs that are incomprehensible, but it is to remember that these songs are of the greatest importance because they confront us with the meaning behind the absurdity of life, which is revealed in these fairytale-like songs with which all of us live. In some way, they tell us that the songs we do understand are ultimately just as much a part of the absurdity as those we do not understand. They confront us with the ineffable, the mysterium magnum. They restore us to our rightful place. They turn us into children, which we have always been and always will be however much we want to deny this. We are still traveling.

The problem is that there is a wisdom “out there,” which is transmitted on a wavelength that is out of range of our spiritual transistor’s frequency. Yes, we turn on the radio, but we’re only able to hear some strange noises and unusual static. There is a serious transmission failure. We can’t find the pipelines because we have become locked in our armor and are too far removed. This is the only human condition known to us. And on Rosh HaShana we become aware that we will never catch this wavelength.

Therefore, Rosh HaShana is of the greatest importance. Having to crown a Being whom we cannot fathom forces us to believe in the fairy tales of the Divine. When we state in our prayers that “God was King, is King and will forever be King,” we enter a space where all such expressions are completely beyond our intellectual capacity. We do not know what we are saying. It is all holy absurdity. And consequently, it is most significant.

For this reason, there is an interplay of words in our prayers, when we laud God as the King but then at a certain moment are silenced by our awareness that all these expressions are deficient. We realize that our words are completely inadequate and we are not tuned in to the transistor’s transmission, which by definition cannot reach us.

We then do what children do when they cannot find the words. They start looking for other ways to overcome the problem. Sometimes, out of frustration, they’ll make incomprehensible sounds to let off steam and simultaneously try to reach a level that no words can reach. In that case, they may take a whistle, or other blow toy, and produce strange sounds that belong to the world of fairy tales.

This is the purpose of the shofar. When words are no longer effective, we look for other ways to pull through and release our frustration. And so we start to blow a strange sound that can pierce through all heavenly levels until it makes it to the One Who is totally unknown.

And somehow we have a good laugh over it. What do you do when absurdity and inadequacy hits you? You can become depressed and melancholic. But here Judaism proves its genius. It turns the tables on us and asks us to overcome our negative feelings and instead celebrate this absurdity. It asks us to dress like kings and queens, have tasty meals, sing optimistic songs, and turn Rosh HaShana into a fantastic holy celebration.

It is all a cavalcade of our lives and therefore very serious.

“To live is like to love—all reason is against it, and all healthy instinct for it,” said Samuel Butler.

It is Divine humor that tells us to continue to live with this absurdity; and supreme holy witticism that asks us to live with laughter. We are asked to enjoy the journey and realize that there is no arrival.

Tizku le-shanim rabot.


[1] See Eliezer Berkovits, With God in Hell: Judaism in the Ghettos and Deathcamps, Sanhedrin Press, NY & London, 1979.

[2] See Godfried Bomans, Wij Horen U Niet, Elsevier, 1961, Dutch.

As taken from,

Journey to the Next World

Journey to the Next World

What happens when you die? How can your way of life affect the eternal reality?

Are you a body, or a body and a soul? Most people would answer, “I’m a body and a soul.” But do we mean it? Do we live our lives and make decisions as if each of us is not just a body, but a body and a soul?

At certain times in our lives we reconnect with our souls. A wedding is a soul experience for the bride and groom, a new beginning through the spiritual union under the chuppah, the wedding canopy.

For many, going to Israel is a life-altering experience of connecting with the land, the people, and the legacy that is part of every Jew.

The birth of a child is a soul-stirring moment. We witness the miracle of creation, the wonder of a new life, and we feel the awesome responsibility of this priceless gift to guide through life.

On a journey to the countryside as we look up to a star-filled sky, we can truly see forever. A feeling of transcendence overtakes us.

Death itself puts us in touch with our souls. What am I living for?

A near-death experience can be a dramatic soul encounter. People do not recover from such experiences without realizing that they have been given another chance. Afterward, each new day holds new meaning, and even casual relationships turn precious.

Death itself puts us in touch with our souls. No one stands at a funeral and thinks about the menu for dinner that night. Everyone thinks, “What is life all about, anyway?” “What am I living for?” “Is there something beyond this world?”

We know that we are souls. When we look into the eyes of someone we love, we do not see random molecules thrown together. We love the essence of that person, and that essence is what we call a neshama, a soul.

God formed man out of dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils a breath (soul) of life. (Genesis 2:7)

The soul is eternal, although the body’s existence is temporary. When God decides a person’s time on this earth has ended, He takes back the soul, and the body goes back to the earth, completing the cycle of creation (“dust to dust”). For, in the beginning, the first person, Adam, was created from the dust of the ground.

The essence of our loved ones, the goodness and special qualities that they possessed, the part of them that made noble choices in life, performed good deeds, and touched the lives of others – their neshama – goes on to a world of infinite pleasure. In that world, physical sufferings do not exist, and souls bask in the light of their Creator, enjoying the rewards for all that they did here on earth.

Front-Row Seats

But what kinds of choices and deeds count? Those of people who saved the lives of others, who led armies to victory, who discovered medical cures? Yes, those people enjoy a place in the World to Come, but so do those who led simpler lives, who performed quiet acts of kindness and made a difference to those around them. Perhaps what they did wasn’t front-page news, but small acts have merit too and can mean an eternity of the deepest pleasures in the World to Come.

What we are experiencing now is called Olam Hazeh (“This World”), while the next world is referred to as Olam Haba (“The World to Come”). We are all familiar with what happens here, but what goes on in Olam Haba?

Of course no one in Jewish history ever died and came back to tell us what happens in the world beyond. Yet we are assured there is another existence. Maimonides, the 12th century scholar, includes this belief in his “Thirteen Principles of Faith.” Our oral tradition speaks about it at length, and Kabbalah, Jewish mysticism, is also replete with wisdom about the hereafter

Olam Haba, Heaven, is more easily understood when compared to a theater. Our Sages state that every Jew has a portion in the World to Come. This means that a seat in the theater has been reserved for each person’s soul. But as in any theater, some seats are better than others. If God is “center stage,” some souls will enjoy seats in the front row center section, others will sit in the balcony, and some will have obstructed views. But everyone will have a place. What seats we are assigned are based on the choices we make and the deeds that we do in Olam Hazeh, this world.

In the next world, we’ll be surprised who gets the best seats.

We are told that we will be surprised who gets the best seats. We will look down and say, “What are they doing there? They weren’t so great!” “What are they doing up front? They didn’t accomplish very much!”

And God will answer and say, “They are there because they listened to My voice.”

We make a mistake when we think that only those who seem great, honored and accomplished will merit a place before God. Each person is judged individually, and we don’t know what one mitzvah, one act of kindness, will make the difference when God reviews a person’s life.

Listening to God does not only mean obeying the laws of what and what not to do. Hearing His voice means that we see that life isn’t ruled by coincidence, that we realize that events take place for a reason, and we act accordingly. We may not know the Torah backward or forward, but if we have a relationship with our Creator, it can be worth a front row seat in eternity.

Eternal Pleasure

Our Sages say that if we took all of our life’s pleasures, every one of them, and all the pleasures of everyone in this world, and brought them all together, the total wouldn’t be worth even one second in the World to Come, the pleasure of being close to God.

Now, it may not have been uppermost on our minds in this world, but we know that if you were called to someone’s home for a meeting, and following the meeting the host announced that God’s Presence was about to arrive and wanted to communicate with you, you wouldn’t say, “Well, sorry, it’s getting late and I have to get up early tomorrow.” You would be scared out of your mind, but there is nothing more important or more desirable than going before God, Creator of heaven and earth.

We can’t imagine passive pleasure. For us pleasure is active. We go away on vacation. We ask for a raise and get it. We eat a big helping of the flavor of the month. Something happens and we feel pleasure. So how can sitting in one place be so overwhelmingly pleasurable? Because it is an earned pleasure – what we did in our lifetime on earth has yielded this result.

In Olam Haba we are sitting before God, Who created us. He knows us inside and out. Every moment here on earth is His gift to us. He loves us more than our parents love us, more than we ever love or ever will love our children. And He calls us back to Him.

Of course people are not perfect and we all make mistakes, but those errors in judgment do not erase our good deeds. If we light candles on Friday night and then go to a movie, God does not look down and say, “Candles. Movie. We’re back to square one.” The act of lighting candles, the bringing in of the Sabbath, is eternal. Nothing can take it away. It is the same with every positive effort we make in life.

Of course we all make bad decisions sometimes, and some acts we deeply regret. What should we do about them? Ideally, we should take care of our mistakes here in this life. If we have wronged someone, we should make peace. If we are letting bad habits or character hold us back, we should work on breaking free and return to being the person we know we can be.

Judgment Day

When our souls leave this world and go before God, we give an accounting, and a certain judgment takes place. Judgment is not something we look forward to. Who wants to be judged? But this is not just any judge. This is God, our Father in Heaven. A human judge might be biased. But this is our Creator, who gave us life and everything that happens in our lives. His judgment of us comes from love, and anything that derives from love is for our good.

The decisions that we make count for something – not just at the moment, but forever.

Furthermore, His judgment means that our judgments count. Life is not random; it has meaning and purpose. The decisions that we make in our lives count for something, and not just at the moment, but forever. The ultimate reward and punishment happen, but only in Olam Haba, the next world, not here in Olam Hazeh, this world.

Each year on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, God judges us. He looks at the deeds and choices that we made during the year and decides what our next year will be like – based on our efforts to correct our mistakes and the decisions that we made in our lives. But at the time of death, after the burial, we go before God Who will judge us not just on one year, but on our entire lives.

Highway to Hell

The soul can go to one of two places: Heaven, which we have discussed, or Gehenom, Hell.

We believe in Hell? It may be surprising, perhaps, but yes, we do. Why is it a surprise? Often it is a subject not brought up in Hebrew school or in the synagogues. But also the reality is that we grow up in a Christian world, where as youngsters we understand that anything Christian is not ours. And therefore, if Christians believe in Heaven and Hell, then I guess we don’t.

But we do. Yet the Jewish understanding of Heaven and Hell differs from what we may hear from other religions.

Hell is a place help us take care of those mistakes we didn’t correct in this world.

Hell is a place God created to help us take care of the mistakes we didn’t correct in this world. It is called Gehenom. But don’t be afraid. It’s not a place of devils and pitchforks, and it’s not forever. If it is God’s judgment that a person has to enter Gehenom, the maximum amount of time spent there would be one Jewish year. A person can be there a split second, an entire Jewish year, or somewhere in between. That is the reason that we say Kaddish, the mourner’s prayer, for 11 months. We assume that our loved ones would never be there an entire year. Ideally, we want to by-pass it altogether.

A great rabbi was scheduled to speak on the subject of the next world at an “Executive Lunch and Learn” series in downtown Toronto. My husband picked him up at the airport, and on the way downtown asked him to “go easy on Gehenom” with the primarily non-religious audience. He was afraid the rabbi would scare them.

The rabbi turned to my husband and asked, “Do you have hospitals here in Toronto?”

“Yes,” he answered, confused.

“And,” continued the rabbi, “are these world class hospitals?”

“Yes,” answered my husband again.

“Would you ever want to check into these hospitals?”

“No,” said my husband.

“But if you need to, aren’t you glad they’re there?”

The rabbi explained that Gehenom is a hospital for the soul. Going there will be painful. But it’s from God’s kindness, His mercy, and His love that such a place exists. We wouldn’t want to check in even for a minute, but if we have to, we know it’s for our good, and we hope our stay will be as short as possible.

The way to avoid Gehenom altogether is to take care of our mistakes here. This is not an easy task, but making the supreme effort in this world will ultimately avoid a much greater pain in the next.

Of Blessed Memory

Whether we are able to by-pass it, or we have to spend some time in Gehenom, eventually we are able to enter the theater of Olam Haba. If we arrive and each of us is assigned a seat, does that mean we are there for eternity and that our share of pleasure is limited to our particular view? No. The people we have left on earth can increase our share in the World to Come, and enable us to earn better seating.

How does this happen? In memory of loved ones people often give charity, name babies, learn Torah in their merit, and so on. These are not just good deeds. These are acts we do in this world that have everlasting spiritual ramifications.

When we do something in someone’s memory, we are saying:

Because of this person that I loved, l am living my life differently. He may be gone, but he is not forgotten. He continues to be a source of inspiration in my life. His life mattered, and his legacy will continue to make a difference.

What should you do in memory of a loved one?

My husband tells people to take a 30-day period, ideally the first 30 days after the funeral, which is called the shloshim, and do something concrete in memory of the departed. For some it could be placing a coin in a tzedakah (charity) box each day and reciting a simple prayer.

Most people, after experiencing such a tremendous loss, feel a great need to do something to honor the departed. Because of the concept of Olam Haba, doing something will not only bring you comfort, but also add to the merit of the one that you have lost.

Souls in the next world have awareness. They know what goes on here. By choosing to honor them, you are making an impact far greater than you will ever know.

As taken from,

Rosh HaShanah What Really Counts

by Rabbi Nathan Lopes Cardozo

On Rosh HaShanah all the inhabitants of the world pass before Him like a flock of sheep.[1]

Like walking on a small narrow road where no two can pass by at the same time.

In this mishnah, the Sages highlighted man’s uniqueness and loneliness in his encounter with God. Human beings are, above all, individuals. They meet God privately, each one having been created in a particular way with varying talents, emotions and levels of wisdom. Privacy is, after all, the privilege of the individual.

Still, this individuality is of little value if man is unable to exercise it in his connection with God and his fellow man. Only in relationships can man be an individual, for if he does not live in an encounter with the Other, he cannot be unique, since it is distinctiveness that makes man special. Like a flower that we single out from among all others, and whose beauty we individualize, so man does not become human unless his uniqueness is highlighted.

However, individuality is also an enormous challenge – a call for responsibility, from which there is no escape. It is man alone who is responsible for his deeds, and it is primarily through these that man meets the Other. Nothing has more far-reaching consequences than the human deed. One act may determine the fate of the world. It is through the application of his deeds that man reveals his thoughts and feelings. And even when the act is done in the company of his fellow men and with the cooperation of others, it still remains distinct.

According to a view in the Talmud,[2] Rosh HaShanah celebrates the birth of the first human being—the first creature destined to be an individual—while Yom Kippur reminds him of his responsibilities. Though other creatures no doubt have some degree of individuality, they do not carry responsibility for their deeds, and  are therefore  not distinctive.

Consequently, it is the uniqueness of the human deed that is the focal point of Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur. The High Holidays, then, are a protest against the notion that some of our deeds are trivial. Since all of our deeds take place in the presence of God they must all be significant. Our encounter with God on the High Holidays teaches us a powerful lesson: There are no deeds of insignificance. It warns that we should never see our lives as common and irrelevant. However small a deed may seem in our eyes, Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur make us aware that our entire lives, and even the most trivial deeds, should be attuned to eternity. Time is broken eternity; every moment counts because it is part of a great and infinite mystery of which not even a second can be recaptured. We do not live in our private time but in God’s time, in which we spend every second of our lives. It is therefore imperative that we instill divine eternity into all of our deeds, making the small things significant, the common unique, and the momentary eternal.[3]

We must internalize the truth that only through detail can one really live a life of profundity. Detail is, after all, the breaking down of generalities into such subtle components that they touch eternity. Man needs to live profoundly because only a contemplative life has meaning.

Every ordinary act should be turned into a kind of  mitzvah, a spiritual challenge, making it a dignified encounter with God. On Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur we are reminded that our deeds must redeem God’s presence and rescue Him from oblivion. In doing the finite we must be able to perceive the infinite.

The High Holidays are a warning to live vertically and not horizontally. When we live our lives in the constant pursuit of new material objects, believing that through them we will find meaning and joy, it would behoove us to look around and see the continuous boredom in which our Western world finds itself. The excitement of new possessions leads to the trivialization of our lives after a day or two – but only if we view them horizontally. If we look at what we have in a vertical dimension, meaning in the process of constant spiritual growth, then we see these objects in the light of eternity and, consequently, in profundity.

As we enter a new year, we encounter major challenges. Let us hope we handle this well in our private life and sincerely pray that the governments of Israel and America will make the right decisions concerning Hamas, Iran and The Islamic State. One small mistake may bring a disaster.

May God grant the Jewish people and all of mankind the wisdom to make the right choices, as well as the opportunity to live in peace and with great profundity.

Tizku leshanim rabot.


[1] Mishnah Rosh HaShanah 1:2.

[2] Rosh HaShanah 10b.

[3] Abraham Joshua Heschel.

As taken from,

The Shul with the Coffin

The Shul with the Coffin

The secret to living without regret.

Every year, as the high holy days approach, I remember the strange synagogue in Jerusalem I visited on my first trip to Israel a long time ago.

It was built by Jews who emigrated from somewhere in deepest Africa. They brought with them a very odd custom that was part of their tradition for almost 2000 years.

Like every congregation, there was an ark behind a beautifully decorated curtain, with a number of Torahs inside it. But on the adjacent wall, highlighted by special lighting and built into its surface, was a coffin.

I knew there couldn’t be a body inside. Jewish law forbids Kohanim, the priestly tribe whose descendents still make up a significant number of present-day Jewry, from coming in contact with the dead or even being in the same room with them. It was inconceivable that this was a Jewish version of Westminster Abby, serving as final resting place for some prominent ancestor. That would preclude some Jews from entering.

So I asked, what in the world was a coffin doing so prominently displayed in a synagogue?

The elder of the congregation explained it to me.

Knowing that death awaits helps us evaluate differently everything we do.

“You surely know the mishna in Ethics of the Fathers that says we are to constantly consider three things in order to avoid falling into sin. ‘Know from where you come, to where you are finally going, and before whom you are destined to give a final accounting. You come from a drop of semen; you are going to the grave; and you will have to justify all the deeds of your life before the Creator.’ Awareness of our mortality is the most important truth we must impress upon ourselves every moment in order to live our lives to the fullest.”

Gazing at the coffin every day as they occupied themselves with their prayers to God, they had created a visual symbol – not of the affirmation of death – but of the way in which its recognition could transform life.

To the outsider it might appear morbid. To those who understand its message, it is a profound statement with a demand for introspection by its viewers.

Knowing that death awaits us helps us to evaluate everything we do in a different way.

Rising above Pettiness

A colleague of mine shared with me an incident that took place at a funeral he performed. Immediately after the burial, the husband stood at the grave of his wife and refused to leave. The rabbi said to him: “The service is over. We have to leave.” But the man shook him off and said, “You don’t understand, rabbi. I loved my wife!”

“I am sure you did,” the rabbi said, “but the service is now over. You have to leave.”

Again the man shook the rabbi off and said, “You don’t understand, rabbi. I loved my wife.”

The rabbi tried to get the man to leave a third time. This time the man said, “You don’t understand, rabbi. I loved my wife – and once I almost told her!”

If only the husband had lived his life with an awareness of mortality. If only he had taken to heart the message of the final coffin while it would still have made a difference.

What is it that people do when they know their days are numbered?

They look back with regret at time foolishly wasted.

They wonder why they didn’t spend more time with family and friends.

They are filled with remorse at not having sufficiently expressed love, gratitude and kindness to those most precious to them.

They question why they expended so much of their efforts acquiring things they now realize have no long-lasting value.

They can’t understand why they allowed pettiness to undo friendships and why they permitted minor slights to stand in the way of meaningful relationships.

If only they could’ve stared at a coffin whenever they became forgetful of their final end. They would have been given a daily reminder of Disraeli’s warning: Life is too short to be little.

We try to deny death as much as possible. We hesitate to even call it by its name. We use euphemisms to suggest that people pass on, pretending they have simply moved away. We say they depart, they leave us, they rest in peace – as if verbal camouflage could undo reality.

If we only had the courage to face up to what ultimately awaits us we might find the same wisdom with which those who are critically ill are very often gifted.

It is not morbid to tell yourself “I am going to die.” It is liberating. It frees you from being enslaved to what in your heart you know doesn’t really matter. It permits you to tell yourself that this is not what you would do or how you would act if you had but one day to live. It allows you to break the chains of habit that shackle you merely because you rationalize they are only temporary. It prevents you from wasting your life while you spend your days preparing to live.

Not such a bad idea, after all, to be forced to face a coffin. And if we have not adopted that custom in our own synagogues, we do have a moment when Jewish tradition commands a comparable ritual.

A kittel is the name of the white linen shroud in which, according to Jewish law, we bury the dead. And there are times when a kittel is also used by the living.

On Yom Kippur the kittel is worn in shul as we offer prayers for forgiveness. During this period the heavenly court reviews our deeds and decides our fate for the year to come. We stand before God as the Books of Life and Death lay open, and we prepare to accept the divine verdict. The kittel is a powerful reminder to appreciate the seriousness of the moment.

The coffin and the kittel, the reminders of our mortality, could help us change the way we live our lives if only we took their message more seriously. On Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur our prayers concentrate on life. But they are offered in the context of our awareness of death. And with that knowledge we have the opportunity to turn every additional day we are granted on earth into a time of great blessing and fulfillment.

An excerpt from Rabbi Blech’s new book Hope, Not Fear: Changing the Way We View Death. Benjamin Blech helps readers approach the end of life with calm. More than six years ago Blech was diagnosed with a fatal illness and given six months to live. Over the course of his career Rabbi Blech had counseled hundreds of people through the losses of loved ones and their own end of life, but when confronted with his own unexpected diagnosis he struggled with mortality in a new way. This personal and heartfelt book shares the answers people grappling with the end of life want to know—from what happens when we die to how we can live fully in the meantime. Drawing insights from many religious traditions as well as near death experiences, Hope, Not Fear shares the wisdom and comfort we all need to view death in an entirely new light.

As taken from,