Really, what do they Expect of Us?
It seems that you take one step forward, and the next step there’s an obstacle. At a certain point you ask yourself, what is going on here?
Heskel didn’t know what to think anymore. The day before the shift at the plant where he works was called off suddenly. This week the entire plant was moved to a new location without as much as an explanation. The day before an electrical blackout stopped production dead on its tracks. Yes, workers are extremely resourceful, but production is still way down. When Heskel first got the job he thought it was a dream come true. Now he thinks of quitting. According to his math, the plant is about to close.
Surprisingly, the work manager didn’t seem perturbed at all by Heskel’s doomsday calculations. He revealed to his astonished worker that the plant is no regular factory at all. It is a plant designed to train special production methods for times of emergency. High management is looking for adaptability and the aptitude to improvise under pressure. They don’t really care about production and quotas. They are look for the ability to cope with adversity, ingenuity and plain old durability under difficulty.
Who can toil with no aim in sight? Who is mentally strong enough to work with no goal, future, or prospects in sight? That is exactly the kind of work the Israelites in Egypt were facing. The architects of Pitom and Ramses had no building aspirations whatsoever. Their only goal was to enslave the people of Israel, drain their energy, and sap their faith.
At exodus Hashem said “they are my slaves”. The story of working for nothing is over forever. Kabolas HaTorah took us into a whole new ‘factory’ – work of the most sublime rhyme and reason of them all. It is work in the palace of the king, where every single effort in thought, speech, and deed for the sake of the King has an eternal, inestimable value. Together with shedding slavery, we also received a calendar. Unfortunately, the Jewish calendar revolves around the moon.
For 210 years we waited for the redemption and we finally got it. And when we finally got above the laws of nature, suddenly we are chained to the constant trials of ups and downs. The moon forever increases and decreases every single month, while the sun is both shiny and stable. Why were we chained to such an unstable cycle upon getting out of Egypt?
Measure of Success
Success depends so much on a right beginning. Beginnings are usually flushed with great fanfare and enthusiasm. A new year … a new season … a new job … they all give you a huge jolt of spirit and hope to start and do great work. The first steps can focus the mental energy on surging ahead. Spring is a time for renewal. Creation wears new clothes. Liberty permeates the air. A new volition and ambition flows into creation. We feel a strong pull towards our Father in Heaven and He, onto us in return.
That is the beginning. What comes after is … well … different. We all know that consistent time-keeping is a must. A Jew must keep a stable, consistent schedule of kedusha. But some parts of one’s life are simply not under your control. The urge and yearning you feel for Hashem isn’t constant either. Sometimes you heart is open like a hall and then, many thousands of times your heart is closed as a fist. Tzaddikim tell it to us straight off. This is the way it’s going to be – ups and downs all the way – just like the moon.
Is this a wise policy? Isn’t there a danger that pre-knowledge of the fickle nature of our trek will diminish and cool down our enthusiasm?
Eyes on the Goal
When you start out, you need to know what the goal is. If it’s a race, you had better come first. But the service of Hashem isn’t a race and has a very different goal. This is why the Tzaddikim tell us straight off-the-bat what we’re heading into.
Man is flesh and blood, infused with a spiritual soul. The body pulls down while the neshoma yearns for the Heavens. Since the two are destined to coexist, there is a constant struggle going on. Rebbe Nachman calls the ‘up’ and ‘down’ forces the forces of ‘pulling and enforcing’. The pulling force draws the Neshomah up while the enforcing power compels the body down. The balance between the two forces is the engine behind both creation and creativity. Rebbe Nosson gives a wonderful example of a watch.
Yesteryears watches were mechanical. The power that drove the watch’s movement was a spring, a long thin piece of metal tightly wound daily. The tension stored in the spring was gradually released by the watch’s mechanism over a 24 hour time period. It is the interrelation between the spring’s forward driving force and the intricate mechanism holding it back that releases the power in a tightly controlled fashion. That consistent release enables a sustained movement of the watch’s hands and the exact keeping of time. Without the spring, nothing can happen – without the restraining mechanism that energy would have blown off uselessly.
The goal of the service of Hashem is ביטול – self annulment. That self-annulment is created by what seems like being torn by the conflicts between our built-in up and down tendencies. The beauty of the soul pulls the soul with yearning, and the body’s dense materialism holds it back. The combined resulting struggle creates the immense joy of Heaven. The success isn’t a race, but coping with the constant struggle against the “enforcer” that hold you back. Some get a delicate “enforcer” that allows them hours for uninterrupted learning and praying. Others are giving Heaven immeasurable joy from a pit of tar, struggling under burdens that would break a mule’s back. Success is the ability to sustain the struggle between the two opposing forces.
This is what we are told when the Torah tells us “This is your first month”. Now, that you have gone through the gates of emunah in the service of Hashem, you are now the slave of the King of all Kings. The initial enthusiasm isn’t the goal, it’s only a tool. The goal is to forever reignite a new urge that will subdue another instance of necessary hold-backs.
When you enter the month of Nissan and Pesach with this understanding you grasp that Nissan, like Rosh Hashanah, is a time of renewal. On Tishrei Hashem’s slaves are sitting in synagogues, wrapped with praying shawls – in Nissan they get down on their knees, scrubbing the physical chometz off – but the principle is the same.
Rosh Chodesh Nissan is the Rosh Hashanah of kings. Rebbe Nahcman reveals that this is the time when new honor and authority is given to new power holders. During this day, the soul of each and every one of us is renewed. Our springs, as it were, are wound. We fortify our souls with new longings and urge to reach the infinite, and overcome the “enforcing” deflation of Pesach cleaning. This is when we realize that success isn’t in winning the race, but in being willing to carry the load.