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We have gone through Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Hoshana Rabba, and Simchat Torah, and although spiritually our bank is full, sometimes, physically, we don’t feel it right away. And as this is now really the start of the year, it is an important time for us to focus our spiritual work. There is a concept, therefore, I’d like to share that can help us do that, and in turn, allow us to begin to access that spiritual bank.
"Each one of us this year has to be brand new."
This portion begins Beresheet bara Elohim, which translated means, “In the beginning, God created…” However, the more logical way it should have been written would be Elohim beresheet bara, “God, in the beginning, created…” Why, then, the kabbalists ask, is it written Beresheet bara Elohim? Because, they teach, this is telling us that the real connection for each one of us this year has to be “beresheet,” beginning, or brand new.
What does that mean? One of the biggest mistakes that each of us makes in our spiritual work is that we don’t come to it new all the time. Regardless of how many years we have been studying and making our connections, we need to come to each connection and study as if we’ve never done it before. Our real connection for this year, therefore, should be one of beresheet: I’ve never come to Shabbat before, I’ve never read the Zohar before, I’ve never studied before. It is this type of understanding that is what separates a person who will have a year with some connection and some Light from somebody who will be able to enter into this year and really make the connection they are meant to make, and achieve the growth and wisdom they are meant to achieve.
To help us come to that frame of mind, I want to share a section from the Zohar. The Zohar, as we know, is divided among the portions, and every portion has a commentary on it. But there are also a few very unique little books within the Zohar. One of them is called the Safra de Tzniuta, the Concealed Book, and it holds, we are told, really all of the secrets. In the Introduction to that little short book, there is this story:
The Zohar asks, what is this concealed, short, five chapter book? Rav Shimon says the hidden book, the concealed book, is a short book that has within it all the secrets of the world. Rav Yehuda asks Rav Shimon why, if this short five chapter book holds within it all the secrets, it is not the most important of all the sections of the Zohar. And also, he asks what the purpose is of the other sections of the Zohar if this book has all the secrets in it.
To answer, Rav Shimon brings a parable. He said you can compare this to a man who has lived his entire life in the mountains, secluded from the rest of the world. Wheat grows in this man’s field, and every day he goes out into the fields, gathers some wheat, eats the kernels, drinks water, and survives that way. This man doesn’t know how people eat in the rest of the world.
One day, this man goes into the city and decides to see how everybody else lives. He walks by a bakery, and they give him a loaf of warm bread. He eats it and enjoys the taste. He asks the baker what it is made from, and the baker says it’s made from wheat. Then, they bring him cakes. He tastes them and again asks what they are made from, to which they again reply they are made from wheat. They then bring him some more cakes, with honey and oil on them, and again he asks what they are made from. To which they again tell him they’re made from wheat.
The man says, “Certainly, I already have all of this, because I eat the root, I eat the source, I eat the kernels of wheat.” Rav Shimon explains that because of the man’s silly thought that since he eats those kernels of wheat, it is as if he already has the bread, the cakes, and the pastries, he actually never learned how to make bread or cake, and therefore, was lost from all the delicacies of this world. And the same is true, Rav Shimon says, about a person who begins their study and comes to a certain point, but doesn’t delve deeper.
Sometimes we come to study Kabbalah and understand some of the basic concepts, or maybe even some of the deeper concepts, and we are using the tools, transforming, and at a certain point, yes, we stay connected, but we don’t push ourselves to deepen the understanding of the wisdom. And, unfortunately, as Rav Shimon says here in the Zohar, if a person goes on that path, it will be like they have the wheat, but they won’t have the bread or cake; in other words, they won’t have the deep transformation, fulfillment, and connection to the Light of the Creator that is meant to come. And when we come to each connection or study as if it were brand new, it pushes us to delve deeper.
“Are you going deeper?”
When my father, Rav Berg, began studying with Rav Brandwein, in almost every second or third letter, his teacher would push him, asking, “Are you going deeper?” Because, Rav Brandwein said, it’s not just about the work; the work without the deepening of the wisdom will bring us only to a certain place. And Rav Brandwein tells Rav Berg again and again that in order to be able to taste deeper Light and fulfillment, we have to be deepening our understanding of the wisdom.
Therefore, as we enter into the new year, we want to begin with the commitment that we will approach our spiritual work and understanding of the wisdom as though it is beresheet, brand new, so that we can continue to delve deeper. Because to whatever degree our deepening of wisdom is limited is the degree to which our connection to the Light of the Creator is limited. The more we come to this year beresheet, the more we push ourselves to understand the deep wisdom, the more we can receive the Light of the Creator and truly achieve the blessings we are meant to achieve.