Some speeches are remembered for their content, some for their delivery, and some for the circumstances that surround them. It is quite impressive to hear a speech remarkable for all three. I was therefore very fortunate to be present when Rabbi Eli Mansour spoke on behalf of Chazaq at the Beth Gavriel Community Center in Forest Hills on Sunday, September 10, where he inspired a capacity crowd to understand their ultimate purpose in life. The beautiful shiur was dedicated for the refuah shleimah of Miriam bat Suri.
Rabbi Mansour began by expressing his utmost support and amazement of the tremendous outreach work Chazaq does throughout the Queens community and blessed them with continued success. The following is a rendition of the skillfully-crafted Torah lesson that followed.
During the High Holidays we hope and pray for haim, for “life.” Our holiday prayer books are inundated with this request, but what is the “life” for which we beseech G-d? Our prayers cannot simply refer to the physical qualifications of living. Though sustained bodily function is a prerequisite for living, it does not define the term “life” within the context of our prayers.
The Talmud tells us that the wicked are dead as they live and the righteous experience life even throughout death. When we redefine our terminology to fit within the Talmud’s definition, we become aware of what we are actually praying for when we ask G-d for life.
The Talmud likens the Jew without Torah to a fish out of water. Why fish? Rabbi Gifter explains that the Talmud is emphasizing the apparent “excitement” which fish display when death is immanent. As it is reeled out of the water and splashes about with great strength, the untrained eye may mistake its vibrancy for life. The same is true of a Jew without Torah. The enthusiasm and liveliness which animates an existence devoid of spiritual content must indicate “a fish out of water.” But if the Talmud insists that life does not consist of the physical plane, what does Judaism recognize as “life”?
The Torah teaches us: “You who cleave to your G-d, you are alive today!” (Devarim 4:4).
Judaism associates life with “clinging to G-d.” When we implore for life during Rosh we are actually requesting that G-d attach us to Himself, the source of existence. But how does one cleave to G-d? G-d has no physical attributes to hold on to. Rather, our sages have taught us that the human soul is our attachment to G-d. It is this spiritual “piece of divinity from above” which infuses physicality with life and gives man his purpose.
Our Rabbis further explain that our soul needs spiritual nourishment to cleave to G-d. If the physical body perishes, the soul lives on; however, if the soul perishes, the person himself is lost. Hence, the wicked are dead as they live and the righteous experience life even throughout death. When we ask G-d for life on Rosh HaShanah, we are asking Him for an attachment to Himself, an attachment to Life Eternal. In fact, the sages tell us that the mitzvoth we are commanded to perform actually sustain and nourish our connection to G-d. The more we perform them, the more we live. The Mitzvah of blowing the shofar on Rosh HaShanah is meant to make us aware of this idea.
The Shulchan Aruch (Codified Jewish Law) notes an interesting case. May one blow a shofar within a shofar during the holiday? The Shulchan Aruch responds that one may do so only if inner shofar protrudes outside of the encompassing shofar. The outer shofar thus resembles the physical body, which clothes the inner soul. The lesson is that one is considered alive as long as his inner soul is conspicuous in his actions. As we beseech G-d for life, the blowing of the shofar reminds us as that a shofar only “breaths” when it is filled with “spirit.”
When we ask G-d for life this year, we must realize that the quality of living is important as well. A person who does not understand this is like the bystander who sees the “fish out of water” and misattributes its excitement. Life devoid of spirituality may seem vibrant, but it is limited by its temporary nature.
May we all merit true life and be granted Eternity this year.
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