How to get in the right frame of mind during the hustle and bustle of these days.
Once again, we launch at dizzying speed into the September season. No sooner have we recovered from the between-camp-and-school maelstrom, then it’s school supplies and shoe-store mobs and Oh! What’s on the menu for Rosh Hashana this year?
When your brain is on mega-overdrive every minute of every day, introspection and inspiration can seem as remote as those
Katzefet-and-iced-coffee soul-stirring seminary classes.
Occasionally, we may experience a short-lived feeling of connection and elevation, inspired by an uplifting shiur, a tear-jerking song or a remarkable event of hashgachah pratis. But how can we make the feeling last? How can we tap into ourselves to really serve Hashem?
Avodas Hashem as Expression of a Relationship
We often get caught up in the externals of frum culture: the clothing, the food, the tablescapes. Even our avodah can get stuck in the rut of the practical details: do’s and don’ts, times and measurements, rituals and uniforms.
A powerful, transformative approach is to view one’s avodah as an expression of a relationship with Hashem. This method gives us a deeper, more emotional connection to our Yiddishkeit, and enriches the actions we are doing already, with the feeling of joy, passion, and the privilege of being part of Hashem’s Chosen Nation.
Chani Juravel, noted lecturer and therapist, observes that any relationship is as strong as the one who wants it the least. You might really like the classy, popular rebbetzin in shul and feel a 70 percent relationship with her; but if she barely knows you exist, then the actual relationship is at her level: two percent. In our relationship with Hashem, He is already at 100 percent in his desire for a relationship with us — it is totally within our control to determine the strength of the relationship.
Banim atem la’Hashem Elokaichem. Hashem calls Klal Yisroel his children. He gave us the actual parent/child relationship so that we can gain an experiential understanding of what our relationship with Hashem is like. Just as a young child is totally dependent on his parent, and a parent loves his child unconditionally and wants what is best for him, so it is between us and Hashem. Like a parent, Hashem gets nachas, so to speak, when we overcome our challenges and come close to Him.
Similarly, the Torah compares the Jewish nation to a wife, with Hashem as the husband. And just as in a good marriage, each spouse loves one another and wants to give to the other, we want to fulfill the mitzvos as a way to give to Hashem, kivyachol, and show our love for Him.
Shani was finishing up the last touches on supper for her husband, Aryeh. Opening the fridge, she suddenly realized: they were out of ketchup! Aryeh would never complain, or even acknowledge that it was a problem, but she knew he would not fully enjoy his meal without his favorite condiment. Shani hesitated for a moment, then grabbed her coat and ran to the store 2 blocks away. She came home just as Aryeh walked through the door, and she noticed how his face lit up with surprised gratitude.
Later that night, Shani fell into bed, exhausted from her day’s work. As she started to drift off to sleep, she remembered that she had not set up negel vasser for herself – something she had recently taken on as a personal hanhaga. Her mind came up with a list of excuses justifying staying in bed – ‘it’s not really my minhag, I’ll start again tomorrow’ – but then she pushed herself up triumphantly: “This is for you, Hashem.”
An important paradigm for our relationship to Hashem, especially on Rosh Hashanah, is that of King to His subject/servant. In times when monarchy was common, people had a tangible model for the all-powerful ruler who had the dominance and control to affect every aspect of their lives. This knowledge evoked fear, awe and the ultimate respect, with the knowledge that the king literally had control over their existence. Add on Hashem’s unique qualities of omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence, and we have created a picture that should inspire us to reach total subjugation and reverence.
In the tefillah of Aleinu, which is given prominence in tefillos Yomim Noraim, we focus on the incomparable magnitude of Hashem’s greatness, and our gratitude that He has chosen us as His nation. An accurate view of Hashem’s majesty would also evoke a feeling of being privileged to serve Him.
Dovid, a caterer and event planner, could not believe his good fortune. A prominent presidential candidate was making a formal dinner for religious leaders and had asked Dovid to organize the event. Dovid could not help name-dropping at every opportunity, and for years afterwards he would casually mention, “When I arranged the dinner for….”
Seeing Hashem in my Life
Learning to notice and appreciate the gifts we benefit from on a minute-by-minute basis will not only bring greater simchas hachaim, but can create a greater awareness of Hashem’s presence in our life. My gifts have even more value when I recognize that each was specifically prepared and chosen for me by the One who loves me.
During the time of the Beis Hamikdash, awareness of Hashem was a naturally occurring part of the life of a Jew: seeing the column of smoke emanating from the mizbeach, hearing the Levi’im singing, feeling Hashem’s presence on Yom Tov three times a year. Today, it is possible for us to recreate that awareness in our own homes by utilizing constant small events in our lives to point out Hashem’s presence to ourselves and to our children. This can range from thanking Hashem for the variety of food in the refrigerator, to mentioning a middos challenge that was difficult for you to overcome, to commenting on Hashem’s assistance in getting you that parking space.
Mitzvos as way of connecting to Hashem
Sara’s first exposure to Yiddishkeit was the experience of visiting with frum families. She so much admired and appreciated their lifestyle and the way they raised their children, she decided that she was willing to become “Orthodox” to attain that way of life. As she started keeping mitzvos, she found, to her surprise, that she was starting to feel a relationship with Hashem — something she had not expected, but which came about naturally through her actions that were directed toward Hashem throughout the day.
The Sefas Emes notes that the “mitzvah” comes from the shoresh “tzavta,” connection. It is important to note that mitzvos do connect us to Hashem, even if we are not aware of it. But how much more powerful a connecting force they are if we have that awareness! In essence, every mitzvas asai — mitzvah of action — creates a connection. When it comes to a mitzvas lo sa’asai – withholding action – the message is: that connection is always there; don’t break it!
Often, the most important thing we can give to someone in a relationship is our time. When we do a mitzvah, Hashem is asking of us: just give Me some of your time, to think of Me and build our kirvah.
Tefillah: The ultimate connection
Leah recalls the time when she went to Me’aras Hamachpelah, and wanted to daven Minchah. Unexpectedly, she was gripped by intense trepidation: How could she daven here, in the presence of the Avos, who would see that she was davenning without proper kavanah? This was followed by the realization: why should she be more concerned about what the Avos thought of her, when Hashem sees her thoughts all the time! What followed was the most focused, and powerful, Shemoneh Esrei of her life. “It was as if a bright fluorescent light was flipped on, and I just felt the perfect clarity of those words creating a direct link to Hashem. ” Leah continues, “I don’t often have a davening with that degree of intensity, but at least I know what a real davening feels like.”
Rabbi Pinchos Jung shlit”a, explains that the word hispallel is grammatically reflexive: it is an action performed on one’s self. Through tefilla, we are not just trying to ‘get something’ from Hashem, but to transform ourselves through internalizing the concepts that are emphasized in tefillah: Yiras Hashem, Ahavas Hashem, Hashem’s greatness, His hashgacha over us, and His plans for history and the world. Under this system, even the bakashos fall into this category: through asking Hashem for my needs, I am demonstrating that I am totally reliant on Hashem, so that, too, becomes an expression of the relationship.
Granted, many women may not be a stage where extended focus on tefilla is practical. HaRav Michel Twerski, shlita, notes that tefillah is a process that should be an ongoing conversation throughout the day. Share with Hashem – in your own words and language, at any time – your requests and complaints, your thanks and your joy. This is a powerful tool for developing an awareness of Hashem, our dependence on Him, and His relationship to us.
Shabbos: A Day to Connect
Shabbos is an “os” – a Sign between Hashem and His people. The challenges of Shabbos change with the generations: in ancient times, the trial was leaving the fields for a day without planting and reaping; 80 years ago, it was finding new job every Monday. Today, our task is to find the essence of Shabbos, without feeling restricted by the apparent limitation of our typical everyday leisure activities (not to mention entertaining a bunch of, um, exuberant kids.)
Shabbos is a time to re-connect with Hashem; yet, it is not a day devoted only to spiritual pursuits. HaRav Shimshon Pincus, zt”l, points out that the sparkling house, attractive clothing, and delectable food that we prepare for Shabbos create the awareness that we are welcoming the King into our home. Our speech, thoughts, and actions on Shabbos can be transformed by this awareness – and when we verbalize this idea to our children, the message will stay with them for life.
Fulfilling the King’s Will
Yiras ha’onesh – the fear of being punished, either in this world or the next – is the most basic level of “fear” of Hashem. This type of fear is a useful tool to help prevent ourselves from doing wrong thing, and it is indeed a mitzvah to utilize it in this way. However, if it is the main focus of one’s avodah, it can be paralyzing.
In a real relationship, we do not do for the other purely out of fear of punishment – this would be an indication of an unhealthy relationship. In our generation, especially, this approach, while necessary, may have limited effectiveness.
A higher level of “fear” is yiras harommemus: fear of Hashem’s greatness, more accurately translated as awe. A paradigm would be the reverence we feel for a Gadol — would we even consider doing something wrong in his presence? Simply maintaining an awareness that Hashem is present, is a game-changer in one’s life and avodah.
Rebbetzin Feige Twerski describes an approach to yiras Hashem with the following suggestion: Ask yourself in all situations and surroundings: “Is Hashem comfortable here?”
Accepting the King’s Will
Acknowledging that Hashem is the Ultimate King will help us to accept that whatever He does, is done with supreme wisdom and understanding. Furthermore, when we realize that Hashem loves us more than we love ourselves, knows what is best for us, and is all-powerful – then we fully realize that whatever happens comes directly from Him, and is truly what is best.
When a person develops his anavah and compares his abilities, knowledge and understanding to that of Hashem, he realizes how ludicrous it is for Him to expect to understand and agree with everything Hashem does.
Some people mistake bitachon for optimism: “It will turn out good.” But their actual bitachon can be measured by how they react when it doesn’t turn out as what they perceive as “good.” True bitachon says that Hashem is in control, and what He determines is best, is what is good. We may see how it is “good” a day, a year, or decades later….or never at all in our lifetime. A goal that we should always be striving for, is to “Make His Will, my will”.
Completing the Circle
As the cycle of the Yomim Noraim season progresses, this pattern comes full circle. On Rosh Hashanah we crown Hashem as King and recognize Hashem’s awesome malchus, which brings us to a desire to connect to Him. Once we recognize Who Hashem is, we are motivated to remove everything that was blocking us from that relationship – the avodah of Yom Kippur. Finally, on Sukkos/Simchas Torah we experience the tremendous joy of being re-united with Hashem – He is happy to have us back, we are happy to be close to Him.
Taking it Home
Here’s how some women like you have focused in on the Relationship to deepen their avodah. Choose one or share your own!
- I reflect on my grandfather’s stories of life in pre-war Russia to gain an appreciation for the unimaginable luxury of my modern lifestyle compared to his.
- When my husband says the words “asher bachar banu mikol am” in kiddush on Yom Tov, I focus on hakaras hatov for being chosen to be part of Hashem’s nation.
- I spend a second or two focusing on the pleasure I will get from the food I am about to eat, which makes my brachos so much more meaningful.
- When I start Shemoneh Esrei, I give extra focus to the first brachah: being that Hashem is controlling the history of Klal Yisrael and the world, my own worries and concerns fall away: I know He is handling everything!
- When I have a problem that seems insurmountable, I remember: nothing is too hard for Hashem – He does not need my help to find a solution to my problems!
- When analyzing – and agonizing over – world events that affect the Jewish people, I make sure to include this thought: this is part of Hashem’s plan – what message is He sending us?
- When my child was afraid to go to sleep in the dark, I told her that Hashem is holding her hand.
- At the Shabbos meal, everyone who shares an event of hashgacha pratis that happened to them that week, gets a special treat.
- When I am worried about something, I create a mental image of wrapping up my troubles and sending them up to Hashem.
- When I give my kids Shabbos party, I emphasize that these special treats are Lekavod Shabbos Kodesh
- I couldn’t get to shul much for Yomim Noraim, but I hung up signs around the house that said “Shivisi Hashem Lenegdi Tamid”
- Instead of turning on music as soon I get into the car to go to work, I talk out loud to Hashem for a few minutes to tell Him about my plans, worries, and hopes
Alisa Avruch is a marriage mentor who empowers women to bring deeper connection and emotional intimacy to their marriage, through hands-on skills and mindset shifts. For more on inspiring your Yomim Noraim, visit https://mailchi.mp/thesecretspark/roshhashanabcp to view her free class: Renewing our Relationship with Hashem – Tapping into the power of Mekabel to transform your Rosh Hashana.
For more information getting a deeper connection in your marriage, visit thesecretspark.com.