During Rosh Hashana we wish each other a Shana Tova Umetuka, a good and sweet new year. But is there something that we can actually do to make a good year for ourselves? Is there a formula, that we can apply that will give us the good and sweet things that we are looking for? The question here is: how to have a good new year? I will try and answer this question by discussing four concepts.
The first concept is the concept of emuna.
Now, what is Emuna? The definition of emuna shlema (complete Emuna) is as follows: a) everything comes from Hashem, b) Hashem does everything for the best and b) Hashem does everything for a specific purpose.
That emuna is important, is easy to show. The Talmud tells us that, when we pass away and arrive at the gates of Heaven, each person is given a test, a sort of entrance exam in the Heaven. We are then asked six questions. The English translation of the first of these six questions is: did you do business with honesty and integrity? This is not a good translation. The Hebrew question is “nasata we natata be emuna”, which means that the question is really if we had emuna in all of our dealings in this world. Did we really infuse emuna in all our dealings in this world? Did we really immerse emuna in all our interactions with others? This is the first question, so this is the most important question of our entrance exam.
Then in the end of Masechet Makkot there is an interesting conversation. On page 23b the Gemara states that Moshe Rabbeinu taught us 613 mitzvot. David Hamelech summarized these into 11 principles, the prophet Yeshayahu into 6 principles, Micah the prophet into 3 principles, Isaiah the prophet into 2 principles and the prophet Chabakkuk said: it all comes down to one thing: emuna.
Now, what would this mean? Does this mean that, once we have emuna, we can forget about the 613 mitzvot? No, this could not be the meaning. There is a different explanation. the prophet Chabakkuk meant to say: emuna is the most important concept to learn in life. Once a person has learned what complete emuna (emuna shlema) is and then use this, then this will lead to keeping the mitzvot. The foundation of emuna directs us – as a result – to the keeping of the mitzvot.
Emuna is the daily medicine that each and every one of us needs to take, just like vitamins and nutrients. If we have a small obstacle in our lives, then we take a small dose of emuna. If we have big trials and tribulations, then we take a large dose of emuna. The more trials and tribulations, the more emuna a person needs.
Learning about emuna does not mean that you are done when you know what emuna means, like getting a college degree and hanging your degree on the wall. A person should try to attain emuna continuously and should live with emuna 24-7. Just like a body-builder who wants to develop muscles and goes to the gym on a daily basis, so too should we try and develop our emuna-muscles on a daily basis.
Emuna is our most powerful asset. A person who has complete emuna, is relaxed and content, because he knows that his or her life is in the hands of Hashem. Anxiety, worry and stress would then become superfluous. Emuna leads to the knowledge of Hashem and this will pave the way to a wonderful world of peace and tranquility.
The second concept is the concept of gratitude. The Jewish nation has been known to be a people of complainers. This started a long time ago, when the Jewish people were getting ready to enter the land Israel. We see here that the Jewish people started complaining about their food, there was no meat, fish, cucumbers, melons, leek, onions and garlic. Then the people also complained about the lack of water. When Moshe brought them water, they started complaining that the water tasted bitter (the place was therefore called Mara). Then, the spies went to check out Israel and came back with their negative reports. Again, we started to complain and we did not want to enter the land that Hashem had given to us. This then angered Hashem, who then said: I will give you something to complain about. This resulted in a punishment of an extended stay in the desert of no less than forty years. In fact, this is also the reason that we are still suffering from all sorts of trials and tribulations, even today.
Now, a person could ask: if they complained more than three thousand years ago, why would I be responsible for this? Is it fair to hold something, that happened more than three thousand years ago, against me still today? The answer is very simple: also today, we are still a bunch of complainers. Yes, the Jewish people are still a bunch of complainers.
Let’s say that someone would ask you to stay if he can stay in your house for a couple of days. The person is stuck and needs a place to get back on their feet. You say: of course, stay with me. You give him food, a bed and all that he needs. You also give him your car so that he can move around. Instead of staying a couple of days, he decides to stay one week, this turns into two weeks, this turns into one month. All this time, the person has not thanked you even one time. He does not offer to help in the house and takes everything you do for him, for granted. Now, what would you do? Would you kick him out of the house after a certain time? That would be the normal reaction, right? Know that the person in this story is really us and the owner of the house is Hashem. We are living in the world of Hashem, who gives us all that we need, every day. Very often, we do not thank Hashem at all for the things He gives us on a daily basis.
Hashem despises ingratitude more than any other sin. As long as we have not rectified this negative character trait, the exile (ge’ula) still continues. If the Jewish people would show more gratitude, then this will certainly hasten in the redemption. This also applies to our personal redemption.
Now, how do we show gratitude? We do this by saying “thank you” to Hashem. We can literally say “thank you” to Hashem for everything that we have in our lives, our health, our income, our family, our bodily parts, the things that happen to us in our lives etcetera. We should thank Hashem not only for the good things, but also for the “seemingly” bad things. There are no bad things, as Hashem does everything in our lives for the best (see definition of emuna, above). The more we thank Hashem, the better. We can do that in our own language, just by talking to Hashem on a daily basis.
Gratitude towards Hashem, will start a reaction that is called “midda keneged midda” (measure for measure), this is the way how Hashem interacts with us. If we are grateful for things that Hashem gives us, then Hashem is also grateful for things that we do. That is how powerful gratitude is.
The third concept is humility.
We know that it is very important to do mitzvoth and to study Torah, but the (main) student of the Arizal (Rabbi Chaim Vital) teaches in his book Shaarei Kedusha, that the main work that we are here to do in this world is to work on our character traits. We are here in this world to refine our character traits, which is called “tikkun ha middot”. (The Zohar calls this Hitkafya we Hithapcha, to subdue and to transform).
Hashem created a lot of character traits for human beings, both good ones and not so good ones. From all these character traits there are two main traits (the dominant character traits), one positive and one negative. From the negative there is ge’ava, pride or arrogance. From pride all other bad character traits are formed and developed, like anger, sadness, dishonesty, jealousy etcetera. The more pride a person develops, the more negative character traits are likely to follow.
One the positive side, the main important and highest character trait is anava, the trait of humility. If we are humble, then all the other positive character traits (honesty, compassion, patience, happiness etcetera) will start to develop. It is like a chain reaction.
The more pride a person has, the less humble a person is, because these two exclude each other. It is like a scale: more of the first leads to less of the other and the other way around.
What does Hashem say about arrogance? We can find this in the Talmud, where it says: “Concerning any person who has arrogance within him, Hashem said: He and I cannot dwell together in the world“, meaning that Hashem cannot stand in the same place with this person.
Here is what Rabbi Nachman of Breslov (1772-1810, great grandson of the Baal Shem Tov) said about this:
- Pride brings poverty (Likutey Moharan, chapter 8);
- Pride is a way of idol worship, avodah zara, (L.M. 5);
- A person who is arrogant cannot even open his mouth. He lacks the faculty of speech and is unable to speak words which radiate with light (L.M. 11.2);
- Arrogance and sexual immorality are connected (L.M. 3);
- Intelligence, power and material possessions are the three main things that give people a sense of superiority. You must rid yourself of any trace of arrogance you may have in these three areas (L.M. 14.5)
- Arrogance can actually cause a person to be imprisoned (L.M. 22);
- When a person is arrogant, it is a sign that he will end up in trouble. The opposite is also true: a person who is humble will come to great honor (L.M. 168)How do we develop humility? Do not say: I am nothing or I am a nobody. This only leads to a lower self-esteem. Besides, this is not true, as we are the sons of a King, who gave us a neshama. This neshama is a “chelek Elokit”, a divine part of Hashem himself, it is like having a 100 carat diamond in ourselves.We have learned from the Baal Shem Tov (Rabbi Israel Ben Eliezer, 1698-1760). His approach is that you should know who you are. You should know what your powers and talents are. Realize your talents and recognize them, know that you are smart, that you are talented, that you are a big business man, that you have many talents, BUT you should also realize that this all has been given by Hashem, this with the goal to help you reach your purpose in life. Instead of a person saying ” I am very smart, am a very big business man and have a lot of money”, a person could rephrase this and say: “Yes, I am smart and a big business man, because Hashem chose me to be a big business man. All these talents come from Hashem, who has given them to me to use them for the good and to serve Hashem”.
A person should also realize that there are many other people that are even bigger business people, so everything is relative. And Hashem gives each person unique qualities, so there is always one person who will have qualities that another person does not have. Instead of saying ” I am nothing”, you should say: ” I would be nothing without Hashem”.
The fourth concept is that of sharing or spreading your light onto others. This concept is very often completely overlooked. With sharing (or spreading light) I mean that a person should share all that he has learned, with his family.
In the Talmud, a man is compared to the sun, while a woman is compared to the moon. The moon does not have any light on its own. The only light that the moon gets is the reflection of light of the sun.
So, if a man does not share any light on his wife and children at home, then they will stay in (a state of spiritual) darkness. We also know that women do worry much more than men, so they need much stronger doses of emuna. A man should therefore give his wife the medicine of emuna.
Also, children need emuna. Today’s world is more hectic than ever and children get fed external information (internet, phones) non-stop. I have a seventeen-year old son, who is in his final year of high-school. He stresses about his exams. I ask him: did you study well for your exams? I also ask: did you do your best? If he then says “yes”, then I tell him: YOU DO YOUR BEST AND HASHEM DOES THE REST. This is the ultimate way of expressing Emuna.
Now, how do we know that we should shine our (spiritual) light on our family? This we also learn from the Talmud. The third question we get in our entrance exam to Heaven is: “Did you devote yourself to your family (asakta B’priya U’reviah)”? This question shows us that we have an obligation to take care of our family. This obligation is not limited to their material needs, but also extends to their spiritual needs. We need to make sure that they have sufficient “spiritual food”, just as they need physical food.When I was in Uman, I heard a business man, who sold jewelry, say: “Chevre, lo listabech im ha Isha” (guys, do not get into issues with your wife, so buy her jewelry). I would say: “Chevre, lo listabech im ha Mishpacha” (guys, don’t get into issues with your family). If you want shalom bayyit in the house, then you must shine the light of Torah on your wife and children. Give them emuna by the bucket and teach them all the beautiful concepts of the Torah that you yourself learned.
Summing it up: Emuna, Gratitude, Humility and Sharing are the key concepts (EGHS). So this year, let’s put all our EGHS in the basket of Hashem. If we do that, then I am certain that we will have the best year ever!
Daniel Zahavi, Miami, FL