Shuva Yisroel (#1)
An adaptation of the Maamar
A Jew’s task in life is to illuminate the world withG-dliness, accomplished through observing Mitzvos.
He or she must sometimes struggle against his or herown desires to do this. This struggle is associated with the name of ourpatriarch Jacob; when the battle is won, it is associated with his other name,Israel.
If one transgresses a mitzvah (G-d forbid) he or shedoes not allow G-dliness to flow into the world. However, all is not lost, forone can gain atonement and a fresh start through sincere repentance.
ThisShabbos is popularly known as “Shabbos Shuva” (the Shabbos of “Return...”), since it is the Shabbos between the High Holidays of Rosh Hashana andYom Kippur, and we therefore read in the synagogue the prophetic exhortation(Hosea 14:2): “Return, O Israel, unto G d your G-d ….” All this is because theperiod from Rosh Hashana to Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) is especiallyconducive to “returning to G-d,” repentance from any transgressions we may havedone, and so it is appropriate to reflect on the Jew’s relationship with G-d;his or her mission in life; and how, during this period between Rosh Hashanaand Yom Kippur – commonly referred to as the Ten Days of Penitence – we have anespecially good opportunity to make up for past wrongs and start anew.
Morefully, the verse quoted above reads, “Return, O Israel, unto G-d your G-d, foryou have stumbled in your iniquity.” Iniquity – transgression of G-d’s will –is like a stumbling block impeding an individual from proper progress on thepath that will strengthen his or her relationship with G-d. To understand this– just what this relationship is, and how transgressions impede it – let usdwell for a bit on the purpose of life.
G-dHimself is omnipresent and all-powerful; if He did not specifically will itotherwise, the universe and all created entities would be simply overwhelmed byHim and cease to exist in their own right. One may visualize a brilliant light,more blinding than a million suns, filling all of space with its intensity;unless there were some way to conceal or withhold that brilliance, nothing elsein the universe would be discernible. Certainly a mere light bulb or candleflame would be imperceptible, overwhelmed in this all-pervasive energy. In acomparable fashion, G-d conceals Himself from our open perception in this world– so much so that a person might not even realize He exists, G-d forbid – sinceif He were to reveal Himself in all His Glory, the entirety of creation wouldsimply be absorbed in His omnipresence and cease to exist as we know it. Whenwe wish to refer to this aspect of G-d Himself, overwhelming in all His Glory,we use the Tetragrammaton (the four-letter Name of G-d, pronounced Havayein everyday speech); if we mean G-d in His self-imposed state of “incognito”discussed above, we use a word which implies concealment and restriction inHebrew, the Divine name Elokim.
Now,actually, the necessity of concealing the “blinding light” of pure G-dlinessfrom the world is all part of G-d’s “master plan” of creation: just as a lightis most striking and beautiful when it shines forth out of the darkness, G-d deliberatelyconcealed His “light,” but also gave us a means of revealing it even in theresulting darkness of this physical world. This is accomplished through theTorah which He gave to us Jews: each time a Jew performs a mitzvah (religiousprecept), it’s like flipping a switch that makes the connection between thatindividual and G-d, causing some of the G-dly “light” to shine on his or herown soul in particular and on the world in general. This open revelation ofG-dliness even where it had previously been concealed is one of the most beautifulmanifestations of G-d’s sovereignty over the universe; indeed, it is one of thevery reasons He created the universe at all. This, then, is our challenge inlife: to be the spiritual “lamplighters” of this dark world. It can be a tryingtask, at times requiring the worshipper to sublimate his or her own naturaldesire for hedonism in deference to G-d’s will, but this is by no meansimpossible.
In fact,each Jewish person has an inextinguishable love for G d deeply rooted in his orher soul, and this is what gives us – and has given us for thousands of years –the motivation and the strength to sublimate our own petty, worldly desires,and even to transform them completely into G-dly desires. This burning love forG-d that should motivate every aspect of a person’s life can be brought out andcultivated by the individual’s reflecting at length on the indivisibleomnipresence of G-d, as the verse expresses it (Deuteronomy 4:39): “Know thisday and take unto your heart that G-d, He is G-d; in the heavens above and uponthe earth below, there is no other.” This loses something in the translation,since in Hebrew it reads, “... take into your heart that Havaye, He isElokim ...”; these are the names of G-d explained above.
It isone of the fundamental principles of Judaism that G-d is One in the mostperfect and basic unity. Even though He relates to us through various aspectsand attributes (such as those represented by, on the one hand, the name Havaye,the unimpeded outpouring of G-d’s creative Force, and, on the other hand, thename Elokim, the restraining Force that allows this creation by the nameHavaye to take place to begin with), it would be a cardinal error tothink that this implies any sort of plurality in G-d, Heaven forbid. Forexample, it can be seen that since Elokim, the concealing attribute ofG-d, is intrinsically necessary for Havaye, the creative attribute, tocreate, Elokim itself, in this context, is a function of Havaye.This is a profoundly deep concept, and is what the verse actually means bysaying, “Havaye is Elokim.” (For further elucidation ofthis concept, see Tanya, Part II, chapter 6.) Honest realization that Gd pervades the universe, and is the only true source of existence, stimulates aperson to the heartfelt love of G-d that enables him or her to overcome anyobstacles to bringing G-dly “light” into the world, and as a reward for ourefforts along those lines, in the Messianic era G-dliness will be openlyrevealed.
In humanterms, Elokim – concealment of G-dliness – represents a person’s worldlypursuits and desires, a feeling that he or she is independent from G-d. It isup to us to bring an appreciation of Havaye – G-d’s all pervasiveness –into our daily lives, nullifying our own will in deference to G-d.
This isalluded to in the two names of our forefather Jacob: the Hebrew spelling of hisname Yaakov hints at the struggle to draw Havaye (represented inthe name Yaakov by its initial letter, Yud – the initial letterof the written name Havaye) into the very lowest levels (represented bythe remaining letters, which form the Hebrew word eikev, meaning theheel of the foot – the very lowest part of the body). However, after thestruggle against corporeality, against “worldliness” – symbolized by Elokim– is won, we refer to Jacob’s other name, Yisroel, which means “... youhave struggled with Elokim ...and have won.” (See Genesis 32:29.)
Now, itis noteworthy that the verse (in I Kings, chapter 18) repeats the phrase “Havayeis Elokim” twice. This is because that phrase actually representstwo concepts: the first is as we have discussed above; the second is that G-d’sown unknowable, unfathomable Self, so to speak, is infinitely higher than anylevel of manifestation, even the level of Havaye. Compared to G-d’s very“Essence,” as it were, even Havaye is considered like Elokim –worldly matters.
Thesignificance of this is as follows: A person’s worship of G-d should reallybegin with the basics and build up from there: by observing mitzvos, he or sheshould strive to draw the “light” of Havaye onto his or her soul. Thisstriving is that associated with the name Yaakov; only afterwards canthe person attain the level associated with the name Yisroel. However,if one transgresses a mitzvah (G-d forbid), one hinders the spiritualbenefit of Havaye from reaching him or her. This is because the mysticalsource of the mitzvos themselves is the spiritual level associated with thename Havaye, so transgressing mitzvos, G-d forbid, impedes therevelation of that level.
If, aswe have said, one must draw Havaye to oneself as the starting point ofone’s worship, and one has prevented that through transgressing, is theindividual now cut off from bringing him- or herself close to G-d? The answeris emphatically NO, for in His mercy G-d always accepts true repentance. WhenG-d sees that a person repents from the depths of his or her very self, Heresponds in kind – from His own very Self, so to Speak – from the second levelof “Havaye is Elokim” mentioned above. At this sublime level,even Havaye, the source of the mitzvos, is considered like Elokim,insignificant worldly matters; any gap left in the revelation of thespirituality that should have shone upon the person from the level of Havaye,but which was prevented from doing so by the worshipper’s failure toperform mitzvos, can therefore be filled in, and he or she gets a chance tostart again. Nothing can truly “impede” G-d from relating to a Jew if He reallywants to do.
That iswhy the prophet advises, “Return, O Israel, unto [the second level, the pointwhere even] Havaye is your Elokim.” And these Ten Days ofPenitence, from Rosh Hashana. through Yom Kippur, are especially favorable forachieving this heartfelt repentance.