Part 18: Birthing
The Power to Create
— Samach-Vav Part 18 —
“Every year there descends and radiates a new and renewed light which has never yet shone. For the light of every year withdraws to its source in the Essence of the Ein Sof on the eve of Rosh Hashana, ‘when the moon is covered.’ Afterwards, by means of the sounding of the shofar and by means of the prayers, a new and superior light is elicited… a new and more sublime light that has never yet shone since the beginning of the world. Its manifestation, however, depends on the actions of those below, and on their merits and penitence during the Ten Days of Teshuvah” (Tanya Igeret HaKodesh ch. 14).
Did you ever wonder what actually happens to a seed planted in the ground? Or a fertilized egg in the womb? What mysterious process allows for the emergence of a new fruit, the conception of a new life, the birth of a new child?
The mystery of birthing is revealed in the Chassidic discourse of Samach-Vav delivered a century ago this week, and along the way it teaches us about the enormous power each of us carries even, and especially, when we feel that we are floating in the unknown, with no inspiration or clarity.
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The past year has been complex. Profound unrest brewing in the Middle East has cast a long shadow of uncertainty across the globe. With the unpredictable cancer of terrorism threatening the entire world, the challenges ahead can be quite daunting. If we stare into the face of reality, we cannot help but be confused by the ultimate paradox of our times: Unprecedented technologies, which dramatically have improved our standard of living, cannot protect us from our deepest vulnerabilities exposed by primal religious wars being waged against us. All our medical and scientific advancements have not improved the quality of our emotional and intimate lives, only amplifying the growing dissonance between our outer and inner lives, between material progress and spiritual regression.
All this can leave us feeling quite powerless, with no sense of control over the future course of our own destinies.
Yet despite the unknown, we are blessed with an approaching new Rosh Hashana, which holds the secret to renewal. The New Year, now and throughout history, has always been a source of newfound hope and direction.
As we stand at the dawn of the 21st century, with an uncertain future, it’s wise to remember that one hundred years ago, the dawn of the 20th century was far more difficult, only to decelerate and bring us the most deadly period in all of history. But then, just as now, we had a gift called Rosh Hashana, and we had an invaluable companion, called the Torah – the Torah of life and direction – a co-traveler through history that has always been at our side through thick or thin, through the worst of times and the best of times, to illuminate and inspire us. And above all – to help us transcend the immediate challenges and see the bigger picture, and in the process – gather strength and clarity to forge ahead.
A century ago, the Rebbe Rashab (Rabbi Sholom Ber), delivered the classic series of discourses, called Samach-Vav (short for the Hebrew year 5666). Over the past year, every few weeks, this column has attempted to tackle the central developing themes of this fundamental series of 61 discourses. (The entire series of articles, plus a running summary and related commentaries, can be found in our special Samach-Vav section on our website).
This week’s Samach-Vav discourse, in true style, illuminates the deeper meaning and enormous power of Rosh Hashana.
What is higher, the Rebbe Rashab asks, heaven or earth? Which is superior: spirit or matter? The Talmud offers two opinions: The school of Shammai argues that heaven precedes and is greater than earth. The school of Hillel disagrees and feels that earth precedes and is superior to heaven.
Samach-Vav explains that both opinions are correct, each addressing a different perspective. On the conscious level of existence, the “cosmic order,” heaven precedes earth. But from the perspective of the purpose of existence, earth is the ultimate purpose, while heaven is only a means to an end.
The process of implementing any plan (say, real-estate development) consists of various stages, from abstract strategizing to written designs and charts, from the skeleton layout to the final product. Obviously, the early planning stages must precede the actual building. But the initial purpose of the entire plan, and all its stages, is fulfilled only with the final finished structure. As we sing in the Friday night Lecho Dodi prayer:
“Sof maaseh b’machshovo techila,” “Last in action, first in thought.” Or in the expression of the Sefer Yetzirah (Book of Formation): “The end is wedged in the beginning; the beginning in the end.”
The entire purpose of all of creation, including the highest levels of heaven and the loftiest dimensions of spirituality, is that the human being should transform the material earth into a Divine home. In doing so, each of us creates something entirely new – something possible only on earth, not in heaven.
All the spiritual dimensions, even the highest revelations, are ultimately nothing more than just that: revelation. They only reveal higher states of consciousness. Nothing new is generated. But the selfless act in a selfish world, the kind gesture in a callous environment, like the lowly seed planted in the ground, can give birth to new fruit. The inedible seed can produce a delicious crop.
In the mystical language of the sefirot: All the sefirot are spiritual expressions of the Divine, which do no not innovate or create anything new, only reveal that which is higher than them. Malchut, however, is rooted in the Essence (“The end is wedged in the beginning”), which is beyond any revelation, and includes many things that are not transmitted in the light. Therefore Malchut has the power to actually create anew, while even Keter creates levels that are relatively new, but they are still sublime. Malchut carries the power of creating the material existence, which is a truly new entity.
The same is true in our work of refining the sparks: The primary objective of refining the material universe is fulfilled on earth, in our “lowest” world, where the Divine is completely concealed. Here, you have to create a new state of being; matter must be converted into spirit, the inclination to narcissistic survival must be transformed into becoming a selfless channel that serves a higher calling.
In earlier discourses Samach-Vav discussed the two types of souls and two types of service: The soul of Atzilut which is an extension of the Divine, and therefore serves like a son who has access to the inner revelations of the Divine. The soul of B’iya, which is a “new” entity outside of the Divine and serves like a simple servant through hard work and earns its right to the divine through exertion (unlike a son that naturally inherits his father’s wealth).
Despite the greatness of the Tzaddik (the soul of Atzilut), the true innovation and the purpose of creation is fulfilled by the “simple servant,” for only he truly creates a new energy.
In probing the dynamics of innovation and creation, Samach-Vav defines two conditions necessary for true innovation: 1) The simple servant is under the control of the material domain and has no natural spiritual inclination. Thus his choice of Divine service is a complete and unprecedented transformation from a materially driven individual to one totally subjugated to the Divine. 2) The effort – and its results – is completely self generated, not due to any other infusion or help, or a result of a ready-made product. When someone else does the work for you, you are getting a ready made product. And it therefore does not contain the innovation, and resulting pleasure, of self-initiated effort.
Higher souls, who have an innate sense of the Divine, do not create real transformation, only revelation. Only by the self-generated hard work below fulfills the ultimate purpose of existence: To transform the material universe into a Divine home – a truly new innovation, drawing down unprecedented energy from the very Essence of the Divine.
One of the biggest questions of life is whether it’s all worth it. After all the difficult challenges that life presents, after all the pain and loss, what do we ultimately achieve with our lives? Do we actually have the power to generate something worthwhile, or is life one aimless battle to make ends meet? Is there something to life that is more than just mere survival? Do our choices and actions make a difference in the world, or are they merely arbitrary?
Rosh Hashana – as illuminated by Samach-Vav – offers us a powerful and unique answer: Precisely through the difficult challenge of overcoming darkness, with no Divine revelation, our self-generated effort draws down new, unprecedented energy and fulfills the purpose of all existence.
Many of our activities are about reshaping the old. We tinker with what we are given and try to produce something nicer. But our greatest achievement, one that gives us the most satisfaction, is when we create something new.
Yes indeed, we have the power to create. Not just reveal, expose, actualize potential, but to innovate – to birth something utterly new, never before experienced. Each of us has a unique contribution to make, to a play a song that has never ever been played before.
As this complicated year comes to an end and we are about to enter the unknown of a new year, it is quite refreshing and empowering to know that this Rosh Hashana brings with it “a new and more sublime light that has never yet shone since the beginning of the world.” Its manifestation, however, depends on our initiatives.
As this new, unprecedented energy enters into our universe, the big question we must ask ourselves is this: What will my new contribution be this new year? What exclusive energy will I generate?
You are an original.
What will be your unique creation? What will you birth this coming year?