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The Systems of the Jewish Year

A Beginning, A Middle, and Another Beginning

By Rabbi Sender Haber

Five thousand seven hundred and sixty four years ago, G-d founded a corporation. Acting as sole investor and CEO, He organized a board of directors, a mission statement, and a corporate framework. He analyzed a list of possible employees and their credentials and placed each person in their most appropriate and effective position. Each year on the anniversary of this day, G-d reassesses the framework and each one of the individual placements. Based on past performance and future expectations, He sets the next year"s assignments. “All pass before G-d like sheep, and as a shepherd examines his flock, G-d inspects, counts, and appoints, every living being determining their fate. On Rosh Hashana it is written and on Yom Kippur it is sealed” (High holiday prayers).

Like anyone setting out on a new venture, we begin the year with high hopes and excitement. We are determined that this year be THE year in which we will do everything right, or at the very least better than ever before. Many of us are successful, we make resolutions and carry them through, reaching new heights and improving in areas where we were lacking. Yet, as the year reaches its conclusion and the time of G-dly restructuring is imminent, none of us can be completely sure that we will be allowed to retain our positions.

Towards the end of Deuteronomy (30:6), the Torah describes the end of days, “And G-d will bring back your exiles and He will have mercy on you and he will bring you to the land that He has promised you and He will remove the impurities from your hearts and from the hearts of your children” The Baal Haturim (1270-1343) comments cryptically that this verse alludes to the Jewish month of Elul which immediately precedes Rosh Hashana .

Perhaps the connection drawn by the Baal Haturim between the end of days and the end of the year can be explained in the following way:

Every person has times when he or she experiences what the Kabbalists refer to as an “Isarusa”, an awakening. An Isarusa is a deep desire and yearning to right a wrong, to grow as a person, or to come closer to G-d. It may come as a result of intense sorrow; a void one feels within themselves, or a profound feeling of joy. The Kabala teaches that it is important to grab that Isarusa, and channel it into action and commitment before it fades away. As time goes on and the individual grows, the commitment that he or she has taken upon his or herself will grow as well. This is the beginning of the path toward growth.

Even as we continue along this path of growth, it is inevitable that it will become increasingly difficult to recall the excitement that was it"s original catalyst. We continue doing the Mitzvah we have accepted upon ourselves with excitement, but it is now done by habit, by rote, and because we did it yesterday. We lose that spark of excitement, our Isarusa and seem to reach the end of our growth path.

In its description of the end of days (Deut. 4), the Torah describes this condition: “When you shall give birth to children and grandchildren and you will grow old in the land”. According to the commentaries, “growing old” refers to a lackadaisical and bored attitude that we will have toward the Mitzvos and good deeds that we do. Unfortunately, This is potentially the first step toward the abandonment of those deeds altogether, as is evidenced by the end of the verse “and you will commit despicable acts and worship other gods”.

It seems that every Isarusa and spurt growth is eventually followed by a “low”. The energy that woke us up will eventually run out. How can we possibly recover form this uninspired existence? It is in response to this point that we are promised in the aforementioned verse (30:6), “And G-d will bring back your exiles and He will have mercy on you and he will bring you to the Land that He as promised you and He will remove the impurities from your hearts and from the hearts of your children”. G-d appreciates the good deeds that we do, He remembers us, and He will help us repent and reform by reconnecting us to that original spark of inspiration that started us on our journey.

According to the Baal Haturim, this cycle takes place each and every year: We begin anew at Rosh Hashana full of excitement and determination to make this “The Year”. We have visions of a year with less quarreling, more smiles and more time for G-d. If we are responsible and translate these yearnings into realistic commitments we can turn to G-d and beg him to provide us with the means and circumstances to follow through with these commitments. More often than not we are granted the opportunity for growth and are able to change.  Of course we will experience highs and lows, but twelve months later we are strong. It is in this twelfth month of Elul that we are in the most precarious position. We are at the risk of becoming old just as G-d is about to judge us once again. We possess the actions, but we no longer have the spark of excitement that sent us sailing through the judgment day last year. It is at this point that G-d comes to the rescue. For a full month preceding Rosh Hashana, G-d helps us remove our impurities, bares our soul, and gives us an opportunity to renew our excitement. All of this is timed so that we can be perfectly groomed and at our very best when we stand before G-d and His board of directors as he decides our placement for the coming year.
May we all emerge victorious in judgment and maintain our spark of enthusiasm throughout the entire year. (based on the Afikei Mayim)

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