Aseret Yimei Teshuva (10 Ten Days of Atonement) is a time for deep reflection and personal inventory individually and collectively, of our past deeds, misdeeds and omissions. It is a time when G-d is particularly near and entreats us to redouble our efforts and determination to correct ourselves, advance in our spiritual growth and access our inherent desire to lovingly attach ourselves to Him, our Creator as we fulfill our life’s mission.
This is also the time of year that we coronate Him as our beloved and awesome King, while vowing to submit and subjugate ourselves to His will.
We read in Pirkei Avot Chapter 2 Mishna 4:
Rabban Gamliel used to say: “Do His will as if it were your own will so that He may do your will as if it were His will.” By actively adhering to and obeying G-d’s mitzvot, (will) designed purely for our benefit, we are each transforming ourselves from egocentric people to G-d centered people. The mitzvot are the “user’s manual” to guide and direct us healthfully and wholesomely through all the inevitable challenges that life will present us with. It is the “mind” and “voice” of Hashem apparent and revealed to all those who heed it. Now is the most opportune time to synchronize our inner and most basic Divine desire for closeness to G-d, with our outer desires stemming from the barrage of external seductive desires of false and temporary pleasures.
With the cacophony of voices assaulting us around the clock from TV commercials, Facebook, iPads, iPods, Internet and the like, we are sinking in a quagmire of anxiety and superficial relationships while craving artificial and fleeting thrills that leave one feeling empty and lonely.
Whose will are we truly being influenced by? Madison Avenue’s or the Almighty’s?
Marketing executives strategize to sell us a plethora of products that are unnecessary, while using powerful tools to convince us that we want it and must have these products.
The hedonistic culture that we are surrounded by which deifies the self and pleasure- seeking; a narcissistic culture is urging us to have all the latest “adult toys” and entices us to avoid pain and suffering. We want the “easy life” and become “workaholics” to achieve it. Research has shown that despite the fact that American’s buying power doubled between the years of 1950 to 2000, well-being has not increased at all! Twice the income and people are, on average, no happier. And, paradoxically the amount of anti-depressant and anti-anxiety drugs are said to be taken by one in every 10 people today!
How can we explain this phenomenon?
The subliminal “un-Jewish” messages so pervasive in our environment are subtle and gradual, but make no mistake about it, Judaism as we know it is facing a huge crisis, probably the most threatening of all in our entire history: the breakdown of the Jewish home.
When comfort is valued over struggle and growth, and “kosher thrills” like cruises and flamboyant homes, sports cars and abundant choices of fancy wines prevail, our lofty spiritual passions our clouded and we forget why we are here and what we are meant to accomplish. Parents convey their values, passions and desires to their children at a young age, without ever having to say a word.
During the 10 Ten Days of Atonement we must ask ourselves some pointed and probing questions:
How is all this materialism serving Hashem and His will? Although we are not necessarily committing aveiros, are we getting closer to Hashem through these avenues? What impact is all of the attention spent on acquiring material things and extraordinary comforts, having on the value development of our children? Their antennas are extremely sensitive and they easily discern where our true passions and heart’s desire lie. Their natural tendency would be to follow in their parents’ ways while stunting their spiritual aspirations.
We must seek greater clarity and renew our inborn desire (ratzon) to use the material word as a vehicle to elevate and sanctify our lives and reveal G-d’s glory in this mundane physical world.
In her book Spiritual Boredom, Dr. Erica Brown quotes holocaust survivor and father of logotherapy, Victor Frankl:
Man’s search for meaning is the primary motivation in his life and not a “secondary rationalization” of instinctual drives. This meaning is unique and specific in that it must and can be fulfilled by him alone; only then does it achieve a significance which will satisfy his own will to meaning.”
Dr. Brown goes on to say that: “the search for meaning is not simply a method of escaping boredom or keeping existential angst in check. Meaning is an inherent human need and primary motivation for existence. We do not avoid boredom through distraction; this only prolongs an underlying sense of rootlessness and anomie. We avoid boredom by actively searching for meaning. Judaism is a powerful compass in that search for meaning and in satisfying this most basic human need.”
It is no coincidence that the first couple, Adam and Chava was created on Rosh Hashana to teach us the pivotal role of Marriage in Judaism. The first Parsha in the Torah is Breishit, made up of the words rosh, first priority, and bayit, home. The implicit message is that the primary purpose of the Creation is achieved through the Jewish home with husband and wife at the helm.
One cannot do this work alone. In the book of Genesis we are told “it is not good for Man to be alone.” It is precisely for this reason that G-d created Adam on Rosh Hashana and split the all-encompassing Man into a Man and a Woman, in order for there to be an encounter, a meaningful dialogue through which each gender collectively and individually is afforded the unique opportunity of knowing and understanding themselves first and then their other half. This holy encounter leads to a total integration and perfection of male and female traits and heals the original fragmentation of the universe while re-uniting us with our Maker.
In a generation where divorce is rising at an alarming rate in our midst, and singles’ communities abound, we must take a fresh and profound approach to this dire and impending disaster in order to reverse this frightening trend. Can we restore our desire to serve Hashem by guiding them to marry earlier and encourage them to complete their studies after marriage? Perhaps the lucrative and time consuming careers that provide the material comforts we are accustomed to, are not bringing satisfaction to couples and their families and are actually undermining the cohesiveness of the family.
Let us take a close look at the words that we say twice daily in “Ashrei:”
“משביע לכל חי רצון…..קרוב ה’ לכל קוראיו, לכל אשר יקראוהו באמת. רצון יראיו יעשה, ואת שועתם ישמע ויושיעם.”
You satisfy every living being with innate Desire (and will to be close to Him). Hashem is close to all those who call upon him sincerely, b’emet! Hashem will fulfill the desire of those who are in awe of him and He will save them.
This Aseret Yimei Teshuva, the time of the new year, let’s make time count by focusing on and harnessing our truest inner desires to get close to Hashem, doing what is good in His eyes and pray to actualize our potential in doing that which we were designed to do.
G-d will give us what we truly desire!
Sherrie B. Miller, MA. is co-founder of Bechirat Halev, an organization that promotes marriage education in Israel. Sherrie is a certified Kallah teacher and marriage counselor with a private practice in Jerusalem.
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