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Through The Eyes of a Woman

7th of Cheshvan: Brave New World

As everyone knows, the month following Tishrei is called Cheshvan, or more correctly, MarCheshvan. Two reasons are given for the first part of its name: The Hebrew word mar means "a drop of water," as in the words of the morning prayers, kemar midli -- "like a drop from a bucket," for in the Land of Israel this is the month in which rain first starts to fall. But mar also means "bitter." Coming after the month of Tishrei, which is satiated with festivals -- Rosh HaShanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkos, Shemini Atzeres-Simchas Torah -- the month of Cheshvan may seem, at first glance (but only at first glance) a sad, and even depressing month. There is not a single holiday to break the gloom, especially when contrasted with the month which precedes it. We know the excitement of the spirituality of Tishrei. Those of us who have spent Tishrei with the Rebbe experienced a certain high, an elevation of spirit. For some it's such a spiritual time that the month of Cheshvan is like an anti-climax. Back to an ordinary, mundane and boring life.

Moreover, Cheshvan is the only month in the Jewish calendar which does not have a holiday. If you argue that Menachem Av has only the fast day of Tishah BeAv, the Ninth of Av, we need only point to the words of the Prophet Zechariah, quoted so often by the Rebbe, that in the future all the mournful fast days will be major holidays -- they will be turned into days of joy and celebration. Accordingly, Tishah BeAv already contains its future status in a hidden way and is therefore not entirely gloomy. In fact, it is explicitly referred to in Eichah[8] as a holiday. Furthermore, Tishah BeAv is followed by Tu BeAv, the Fifteenth of Av, which is declared in the Mishnah to be one of the two best holidays for the Jewish people (the other one is Yom Kippur!). MarCheshvan therefore remains unique, as the only month in which there is no (visible) holiday.

However, the Rebbe declares that the spirituality of Tishrei doesn't just end abruptly. The Rebbe cites the principle that a Jew must always ascend in holiness. There cannot be such a thing as a descent in the life of a Jew. One must constantly be climbing higher and higher in his service of HaShem. So how can one say that the entire Jewish nation now returns to their mundane material occupations?

There is one apparently minor event associated with MarCheshvan which gives us a clue regarding what is expected of us during that month. Moreover, this is indeed an expression of "ascending in holiness." On the seventh of the month, people in Israel begin to pray for rain in the prayer, tein tal u'matar livrachah." Historically, after their journey to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem for the Festivals, the last pilgrims reached their homes by the seventh of MarCheshvan. It was therefore appropriate to begin praying for rain from this point on, but not before. Thus MarCheshvan is a month when we return to the mundane world, in order to make it into a fit place for G-dliness to dwell. The seeds that were planted during our spiritual pilgrimage in the month of Tishrei must now be watered and carefully nurtured in order to harvest, with G-d's help, a bumper spiritual crop. MarCheshvan is thus indicative of the Jew's mission in this world: To bring out the very best in ourselves, through our own hard work, and thus transform mar into matok -- bitterness into sweetness.

Uncovering and actualizing one's hidden potential demands, first of all, a change in attitude. Consider the case of Hendel Lieberman, for example. Reb Hendel was a well-known chassid, who tragically lost his entire family, his wife and five children. Here he was, having suddenly lost everything, left alone and in mourning! Obviously, he was very, very discouraged. He couldn't imagine how he could continue. For a long period of time he was very, very gloomy and no one was able to cheer him up. What could you say to such a person -- get married again? Have another family again? He was not eighteen years old any more. It was very depressing.

The Rebbe wrote him a long letter and spoke to him about what had happened. The Rebbe mentioned that through art and painting, a person could find what he was seeking...

Now Reb Hendel had never drawn or painted in his life. What could the Rebbe possibly mean? However, he thought, if the Rebbe says something, he must know what he is talking about. He was well into middle age when he tried his luck at painting. Surprise! He discovered that he had a great gift for painting. With the passage of time, he became a famous artist. In his later years, he must have been in his 70's, he was still giving exhibitions. His paintings have depth, and now hang in many homes. He has a unique style. He often painted scenes of Russia, of chassidim, and of life in the shtetl. These offer the observer a real flavor of the chassidic life he experienced in the Old Country.

After he discovered this artistic talent, he became a very cheerful person. He never remarried, he never had another family. He lived alone in his home on President Street, corner of Kingston, but he became a warm and welcoming host for many guests. His house was never empty, he was never alone. That's why so many people called him Fetter Hendel, Uncle Hendel, even though he had no relatives, because of the kind of person he was. He was warm, he was alive. He had been transformed into a different person altogether.

This is one example of a person who had potential and talents which he didn't know about. But when he discovered them, he became a different person. If the Rebbe had not pointed him in the direction of art, you would never even think that this could become a new direction in his life. The same is true of many of us. We have hidden talents (not necessarily of the artistic type) and vast spiritual resources waiting to be tapped. The crops which result are a product of how much effort we use.

When we see how much is expected of us, we might say, "My goodness, this is really very demanding. How can I achieve such a high standard? It's too much. I don't think I can do it!" However, Chassidus explains that our potential is not a product of our labor -- it is an inheritance from the Avos, Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov, and the Imahos, Sarah, Rivkah, Rachel and Leah. And each Jew acquires this inheritance, irrespective of whether he deserves it or not, or whether he has worked for it or not. Thus, you find out that you actually possess tremendous potential and strength. You just didn't know it until now. It's a part of your genetic makeup. You can bring this out and reveal it, although actualizing this potential demands hard work.

There's a story about a chassid who refused a blessing from the Alter Rebbe for wealth. When the Alter Rebbe then wished to bless him with a long life he asked that they not be poyerishe years -- "peasant years." You know in Russia they had peasants. What was their life? Drinking, eating, playing cards. Today you might say, watching TV, eating popcorn, you know; that's a poyerishe life. Does one have any intellectual or spiritual aspirations, or is just going to the beach, having a good time and drinking soda sufficient? That chassid didn't want an empty life, even if it was long. He would rather have a shorter, productive life. He added that there are people that do not see or hear G-dliness in their life. Such a life was unattractive to him, even if it would be long in years. That's something we can think about for a while.

 

Connecting with G-dliness

On many occasions we have pointed out that there are different levels of closeness to HaShem. By way of an analogy: There are certain people with whom you have a very superficial relationship -- you don't open up to them, the relationship is not close, like a neighbor. They don't know anything about you, they're just very much on the outside. Then there are some people that you can really be yourself with. You can be who you really are and give them your whole essence. In the same way, there are those people who have a very superficial relationship with HaShem and then there are those who want to know HaShem's Essence, to get to know who HaShem really is.

The Essence of G-d is called Atzmus. How does a person have the ability to reach the Essence, the Atzmus of HaShem? Through doing those things that HaShem asks you to do. When a person does a mitzvah, the Will of HaShem, he becomes one with His Atzmus. Your intellect might tell you that learning Torah may be the best way to reach the Essence of HaShem -- you understand, you comprehend His Torah. But Chassidus says that this is not the whole story. As great as your intellectual abilities may be, even if you're very bright, they are limited and ultimately cannot grasp HaShem's infinite wisdom, as the Zohar states, "no thought can grasp You at all." The depth of the Torah that can be grasped with your wisdom, is only a fraction of the total depth of wisdom that's in Torah. Through intellect, you cannot hope to grasp the depth of Yiddishkeit, Torah, or HaShem.

Again, an analogy may be used to illustrate this idea. Imagine yourself speaking with the head of a department in Hadassah Hospital, and suddenly one of the cleaners walks in to empty the ashtray. Do you think that this big professor relates to the cleaner in any way? He's in a different world. A hospital cleaner may be on the lowest level of intellectual capacity. The doctor, the professor, what does he have to do with a cleaner? Nothing. It's not even a part of his life, his world. Consequently, when these uneducated people come into the presence of these professors, they experience a lot of bittul, or self-effacement. Moreover, this feeling is mutual. The professor also feels the lowliness of the cleaner. This is not necessarily because of any evil in the heart of the professor; it's just because there's no common ground between him and a cleaner. They can't relate to one another. However, should the brilliant professor tell the cleaner to do something for him, then this command automatically gives importance to the cleaner. In other words, until now the cleaner didn't have anything to do with the professor; they were in two different worlds. However, if the professor needs the cleaner for something, to bring him coffee or otherwise he'll fall asleep, this mission gives the cleaner status and importance. Not only does the professor begin to see the simple man in a different light, but the simple man gets new energy and interest in his job -- he is working for the professor. He knows that he is doing something vital for this important person!

This forms a link between the two worlds. It doesn't matter whether the person's mission is something very complex or something simple. The important detail is that he is giving that professor something he wants or needs. This creates a relationship between them that is important to both sides. How does this relate to HaShem? As important as we feel ourselves to be, in reality, we are totally distant from HaShem; much further apart than the professor and the simple cleaner. The only way we can relate to HaShem, is by doing those things that HaShem wants, whether we understand them or not.

Let us now apply this analogy to our case -- the relationship of a Jew to HaShem: What was HaShem "lacking" that He decided one fine day to create a world? Chassidus examines the various views that have been given -- by the Zohar, the AriZal, and other sources. It is pointed out that all of these views give spiritual reasons for G-d's creating the world. The problem with these answers is that they do not explain why G-d created a physical world. All of the explanations they give are fulfilled by the creation of lofty spiritual worlds and do not explain at all why G-d created a physical world. Chassidus therefore concludes that the only satisfactory explanation is the one found in the Midrash Tanchuma -- HaShem created the world because He desired (nit'ava) a dirah b'tachtonim, a dwelling place in this, the lowest of worlds. The Midrash uses the word nit'ava -- G-d desired a dwelling place. The word really means more than an ordinary want, it could even be translated as passion. It says that HaShem had a passionate desire to have a dwelling place in the lower worlds. The Alter Rebbe explains that regarding a desire, no question "why" can be asked. Someone desires pizza. Why? Pizza is not healthy, and it's expensive; why must you have pizza? I WANT PIZZA. You can't explain why you want it, but you want it, that's all. People have desires they cannot explain. HaShem also had a "desire" and He went ahead and fulfilled this desire. Why He had such a desire, we cannot know, although we do know what His desire was -- a dwelling place in this world. The Torah does not offer a rational answer to explain G-d's desire.

The advantage of this world is precisely that it is a material world, inhabited by physical beings. We all have a Jewish neshamah, but we all know the sad truth that we also have to sleep, and eat, and be involved in many activities that superficially seem to be very remote from spirituality. Especially women, when they get married, may want to sit in a women's yeshiva and also be involved in learning and praying. But when you are married, and have a husband and a house and a family, you find that there are many demands upon you that take up a lot of time and energy and seem to pull you away from those very things that seem to be the uniqueness of Yiddishkeit. So we have an apparent conflict, a dilemma.

What's expected of me? HaShem sent me into this world and I must spend so much time with physical, material endeavors? A male student in Yeshivah experiences this same dilemma, because once a man gets married he has so many responsibilities. Many people must spend the major part of their lives feeling very distant from spirituality.

In truth, however, our descent into this physical world is for the express purpose of elevating the material world to holiness. This means that the physical activities of a Jew in a material world are in fact permeated with spirituality. When a person involves himself with the physical world for the sake of making it into a fit dwelling for HaShem, then these activities become even more elevated than if he had been involved only in the spiritual realm, for in this way he fulfills the ultimate purpose of creation.

The activities that a Jew is involved in after the seventh of MarCheshvan are thus higher than those of Tishrei, because when you return from the lofty spirituality of the festivals to the mundane world and start planting your fields, you say, "Oh my goodness, my house is full of laundry. I've got to clean this house; I've got to get back into a schedule." That is really why HaShem created the world. When you go farm the field, you can do the many mitzvos that have to do with agriculture. When you run a home, with all the manifold activities that this involves, you are making your own home into G-d's. As you prepare food for your family you observe the mitzvah of kashrus. When you shop, you look for only the best kosher products. If you don't buy and wear clothing then how can you observe the mitzvah of tzniyus -- modesty? The same applies to keeping your house clean. All the mitzvos that a woman does -- they call it housekeeping -- involve a multitude of mitzvos. Through our involvement in the material world, we sort out and elevate the sparks that are bound up in it. Only a person involved with the world can observe those mitzvos. If you're praying and learning all day long you cannot do them.

When the Jewish people returned to their homes after Tishrei and reinvolved themselves in the material world, they elevated not only themselves but the physical tools they used. When HaShem creates a physical object, it must be used by us in the way that HaShem intended it to be used, or it is not elevated. If one owns a home, and no one lives there, no one puts up a mezuzah and no one brings in holy books, then what is the home for? When you move into the house, bring in the mezuzos, the seforim, invite guests for Shabbos, organize classes, then you build a home for HaShem. The home itself, the field itself, becomes elevated.

When you're in Jerusalem, in the Beis HaMikdash, your home is standing unused. How do you carry out HaShem's purpose in the creation of the world? By leaving Jerusalem, by leaving the holiness of the Beis HaMikdash. You could even be on the border of Eretz Yisrael, very far away from Jerusalem, and be saying, "Look, I'm a Jew, I have to live as a Jew," you become an emissary of HaShem. You become a vehicle, an intermediary, through which HaShem's world is elevated. Ultimately it's an elevation for you too, because if you weren't there, there wouldn't be an elevation. So you are vital in carrying out HaShem's desire. You and the physical things that you use to do mitzvos are elevated through carrying out HaShem's mission. It's not a descent at all. By going back home and starting your mundane life, you are achieving the true ascent.

In the desert on the way out of Egypt there were no worries about clothes, about food, about anything. What a great life! The Jews were able to use their time to learn Torah. They had just received the Torah; it was all very exciting. They had the greatest teacher, Moshe Rabbeinu, giving classes. Can you imagine? What a life. Learning, praying -- it was wonderful. Then HaShem says, "Well, you know, this is just a temporary thing; Eretz Yisrael is the goal." They weren't so excited about going there, even though they knew that that was their final destination. "Why should we have to worry about making a living -- sowing, watering, reaping, preparing, running a house, etc.?"

However, what if the general of the army comes over to a soldier and says, "Look, you have been selected to carry out a certain mission." Now although this mission might be very dangerous, very uncomfortable physically, if one has received the mission from the top, the ordinary soldier will do everything in his power to fulfill it. What a privilege, that he has been selected from an entire army to do a certain duty!

When we go to visit the Rebbe for Tishrei, we derive great pleasure from the experience. Oh, what a nice feeling to be in the Beis HaMikdash, to bring sacrifices. It's such a nice spiritual thing to experience. So YOU get a high out of it. But what does HaShem "get a high" out of? When a person says, "Well, it would be nice to spend a whole year here, but I have to get back home and have my house the way HaShem said; I'm going to do everything in my life the way HaShem says." That causes HaShem the greatest pleasure. Because we, in a sense, are subordinating our pleasure in order to cause pleasure to HaShem. That is a much more lofty kind of activity.

 

Even in the Lowest of the Low

There is a further aspect which we need to clarify. HaShem's desire for a dirah bitachtonim, a dwelling place in this lowly world, includes the very lowest aspects of this world. In HaShem's view of this world, holiness can imbue every single aspect thereof, even the places that seem the most unlikely addresses for it -- like 42nd Street, or Dizengoff, which don't seem to be very Jewish. How does this come about? Through the divine service of the Jewish people, wherever they may be, for it is ultimately the Jew who is the Sanctuary in which the Divine Presence dwells; as the verse states, "They shall make Me a Sanctuary and I will dwell among them." Our Sages explain that the verse does not say "I will dwell in it" -- in the Sanctuary or the Temple, but literally in them, within each and every Jew's soul.

For this reason each and every Jew is equally important to HaShem, and has his or her place in the Divine Plan. A Jew who lives in, let's say, Kansas City, is just as important as a Jew who lives in Jerusalem or Boro Park. It is equally important to HaShem that all of them keep Shabbos and kashrus and family purity, and so on. We all form a single body, so to speak. True, in the body of a person, the brain is more important than the toes; the heart is more important than the eyelashes. But if you would meet a person who had all his organs except for toenails or toes, would you say this is a whole and perfect person, and it's just too bad that he doesn't have toes or toenails? For a person to be physically perfect, even the toenails and eyelashes are necessary. So too in the "body" of the Jewish people -- every individual has his or her function in the workings of the entire organism.

Therefore, you cannot write off even one single Jew from the Jewish nation, for if you do so, you're writing off yourself as well. You are incomplete if that Jew is excluded from the Jewish people, because he doesn't yet keep kosher, or put on tefillin every day. It's like you just cut off your little toe. True, your life does not depend on your little toe, but you are incomplete if you don't have your little toe. It could be that that Jew is sick; just like your toe has an infection. If a toe is infected, you go to the doctor. If you see a Jew that has a spiritual malady, why don't you try to help him? Don't just say, "I wouldn't look at him, he doesn't keep Shabbos." This is the concept of achdus Yisrael -- the unity of the entire Jewish people, which the Rebbe emphasizes so much. Everybody has to do their thing, in their way. Mashiach will not come only for frum Jews, but for all Jews. When Mashiach comes, the world will enter a different era, and then everybody will come and live in Eretz Yisrael. Until then, however, Jews find themselves, by Divine Providence, in the most unusual places -- so that when that Jew eventually does teshuvah and becomes fully observant, he will retroactively elevate that place in which he found himself previously.

May we be privileged to see that time very, very soon.

Notes:

  1. (Back to text) The Book of Lamentations, which is read on Tishah BeAv.
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