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HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO YOU
Parashat Ki Tavo
A 50+ year old brother and sister asked me to help them with their Hebrew. That is what I do; helping people improve their prayer and learning, communicating with G-d, on every level possible. Their elderly father asked to speak to me. With a strong Syrian accent, he said, “Rabbi, you like G-d. G-d teaches Torah. המלמד תורה לעמו ישרא-ל. You teach Torah. You like G-d.”
I cried. This is what our religion is about, and the power of the 13 Attributes of Mercy. To be G-d-like. As we are commanded in this week’s parashaוְהָלַכְתָּ֖ בִּדְרָכָֽיו And, you shall go in His ways. (Devarim 28; 10) G-d has so many ways. He is holy, merciful, patient, giving, loving, sustaining, providing… and He teaches us Torah. I just did not realize that teaching Torah is being G-dly.
Another thing I realized about being G-d-like. G-d is unique. Being G-dly means to be unique. He is not persuaded by others, and He does not do things because that’s the trend. Being G-dly, is being able to be the authentic you, because there is no one else with your unique qualities.
Are you religious because the people around you are religious? Haran did not survive the fire that Avraham HaIvri survived, because Judaism is about being religious because that is you. Haran just followed Avraham, but on his own, he was not willing to give up his life for G-d. Judaism is being Haivri, from ‘the other side’. The whole world is on one side, and you are on the other. If you are religious only because you are surrounded by religious people, your commitment to religion is weak. Once you are alone, you will not be as religious. Being G-d-like is, no matter if you are alone, no matter if no one knows or sees, the holy spirit inside you is your compass.
This is the unique blessing of this week’s parasha, and the key to unlocking the power hidden in Rosh Hashana. וּנְתָֽנְךָ֙ יְקֹוָ֤ק לְרֹאשׁ֙ וְלֹ֣א לְזָנָ֔ב And YKVK will make you a “head”, not a “tail”. On Rosh Hashana night, when we eat the head of the fish, we pray to G-d this powerful prayer יהי רצון … שנהיה לראש ולא לזנב May it be the will… that we be like the head and not the tail.
What difference does it make if you are the head or the tail? At the end of the day, you will get to the same place!?
R Shimshon Pincus writes that it could be that you finished Shas, but when you come to Heaven after 120, you will be told that you finished Shas only as a “tail”; you were just “following the gang”, doing the “in thing”. On Rosh Hashana we pray that we find our uniqueness and tap into our natural genius. (The word Genius comes from Greek and Latin words that mean to be born, or to come into being. Not academic achievement alone.) There are many examples of people whose real talents were hidden while growing up; they were the “tail” in some system, and their families and schools, alike, ignored them. On Rosh Hashana, we pray that we be able to tap into our unique genius and fulfill our purpose in this world.
On Rosh Hashana we are judged with a massive X-ray machine. אתה זוכר מעשה עולם ופוקד כל יצורי קדם , לפניך נגלו כל תעלומות והמון נסתרות שמבראשית. As you stand before G-d during Mussaf, Rosh Hashana, everything you’ve ever done, thought or said – G-d sees it all. 1. מעשה איש all that you’ve done. 2. ופקודתו What you were supposed to be, the unique you, that you did not live up to. 3. עלילות מצעדי גבר All the plots, all your plans 4. ויצרי מעללי איש The Yetzer HaTov and the Yetzer Hara: all the inner voices of your subconscious.
When we accept Malchiyut on Rosh Hashana, when we accept G-d’s being King, it means that we accept that there is no such thing as nature. The word מלך in reference to G-d really means מוליך, which means, brings about, He directs everything, He makes nature what it is. When we walk out of Mussaf on Rosh Hashana, we see a new world. A world that is מלא כל הארץ כבודו, a world which is full of G-d’s glory. Nothing is here in the world just because it was here yesterday. זה היום תחילת מעשיך. Rosh Hashana is not just a memory of what happened; it is the beginning of the world. G-d creates the world new, every Rosh Hashana. Because each year, G-d believes that we will complete our mission of revealing His G-dliness in the world.
When I write my articles, I listen to music to block out the sound in my somewhat crowded Jerusalem apartment, and I play over the same song again and again. While I write this article, Ari Goldwag’s (I’m a big fan) Happy Birthday song is playing in the background. It’s a new year, that’s okay. I can’t play, that same old game. Am I really gonna stay the same? Watching as the years fly past. Can’t ignore those questions asked. Yeah, its really time to think about change. Happy birthday to you, start your world anew. There is so much you can do. The world is here for you. Happy birthday. It’s a new year I can see. I’ve let the silver bird fly free. Unrestrained, uncontained, indeed. Happy birthday is what they say, as if it’s good to live this way. The time to change is here, I must conceive. Happy birthday to you. Start your world anew. There is so much you can do. ‘Cuz the world is here for you. And when you blow out the candles, did you wish for a better day? You know you can handle everything life will throw your way. Happy Birthday…
This song got me thinking. When you hear the Shofar, are you going to wish for a better year, the real unique you that G-d is giving you another year for? You know you can handle everything life will throw your way! To be unique is not just to be yourself in contrast or in comparison to others Being unique is about being you of today, and not be the ‘tail’ of who you were yesterday. This is also being G-dly, that your decisions of today are not a product of your decisions of yesterday. You have a dynamic nature, one that is constantly evolving and maturing. You are not the you of yesterday. In our Parasha of 98 curses for the sinners, lies the secret of leaving a year of curses behind, תכלה שנה וקללותיה תחל שנה וברכותיה. The word היום“Today” appears thirteen times in the parasha and is used for things that did not, necessarily, happen on that day. הִגַּ֤דְתִּי הַיּוֹם֙ ;הַיּ֣וֹם הַזֶּ֗ה יְקֹוָ֨ק אֱלֹהֶ֜יךָ מְצַוְּךָ֧ לַעֲשׂ֛וֹת אֶת־הַחֻקִּ֥ים הָאֵ֖לֶּה וְאֶת־הַמִּשְׁפָּטִ֑ים וְשָׁמַרְתָּ֤ וְעָשִׂ֙יתָ֙ אוֹתָ֔ם בְּכָל־ לְבָבְךָ֖ וּבְכָל־נַפְשֶֽׁךָ Today, YKVK, your G-d, is commanding you to observe these laws and statutes, and you shall guard and perform them with all of your heart and all of your soul. What? G-d gave them the Torah 40 years before! Why “Today”? Rashi answers that every day it shall be, in your eyes, as if today He made a covenant with you.
Renewal is the secret. Rosh Hashana is a new world, a new life. Today is not the tail of yesterday. This is why men go to the Mikveh before Rosh Hashana, as it is symbolic of being reborn. Rosh Hashana means you are getting another chance to rebuild your goals and tap into your inner genius. Being G-dly is following G-d’s example of creating the world anew by starting your own life, anew. Dare to be you, to be your own version of Nachson Ben Amindav, who walked right into Sea, not looking at what anyone else was doing. This is the gene that brought about King David. Being the unique you, is the secret of King David, and the secret of the zealousness of Pinhas a.k.a. Eliyahu Hanavi who ignored everyone and did what his heart told him was his unique life purpose. Let us remember this as we pray for Mashiach on Rosh Hashana יִנּוֹן וְאֵלִיָּה אֲנִי שׁוֹלֵחַ. Mashiach will come when each one focuses on his/ her unique mission in this world. (see Niddah 13b אין בן דוד בא עד שיכלו כל הנשמות שבגוף)
Selfie steps to starting life anew, and tapping into your unique genius.
- No one has your portfolio of talents, strengths, weaknesses, personality. Learn to love yourself. You cannot be replaced, and your life cannot be repeated.
- Take meditative time-outs. What we are today comes from our thoughts of yesterday, and our present thoughts build our life of tomorrow: Our life is the creation of our mind. The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking. -Albert Einstein
- Stop acting as if life is a rehearsal. Live this day as if it were your last. The past is over and gone. The future is not guaranteed.