The Power to Create
-- Samach-Vav Part 19 --
“Every year there descends and radiates
a new and renewed light which has never yet shone. For the
light of every year withdraws to its source in the Essence
of the Ein Sof on the eve of Rosh Hashana, ‘when the moon
is covered.’ Afterwards, by means of the sounding of the
shofar and by means of the prayers, a new and superior light
is elicited… a new and more sublime light that has never
yet shone since the beginning of the world. Its manifestation,
however, depends on the actions of those below, and on their
merits and penitence during the Ten Days of Teshuvah” (Tanya
Igeret HaKodesh ch. 14).
Did you ever wonder what
actually happens to a seed planted in the ground? Or a fertilized egg in the
womb? What mysterious process allows for the emergence of a new fruit, the
conception of a new life, the birth of a new child?
The mystery of birthing
is revealed in the Chassidic discourse of Samach-Vav delivered a century ago
this week, and along the way it teaches us about the enormous power each of
us carries even, and especially, when we feel that we are floating in the
unknown, with no inspiration or clarity.
* * *
The past year has been
complex. Profound unrest brewing in the Middle East has cast a long shadow
of uncertainty across the globe. With the unpredictable cancer of terrorism
threatening the entire world, the challenges ahead can be quite daunting.
If we stare into the face of reality, we cannot help but be confused by the
ultimate paradox of our times: Unprecedented technologies, which dramatically
have improved our standard of living, cannot protect us from our deepest vulnerabilities
exposed by primal religious wars being waged against us. All our medical and
scientific advancements have not improved the quality of our emotional and
intimate lives, only amplifying the growing dissonance between our outer and
inner lives, between material progress and spiritual regression.
All this can leave us
feeling quite powerless, with no sense of control over the future course of
our own destinies.
Yet despite the unknown, we are blessed with an approaching
new Rosh Hashana, which holds the secret to renewal. The
New Year, now and throughout history, has always been a
source of newfound hope and direction.
As we stand at the dawn of the 21st century,
with an uncertain future, it’s wise to remember that
one hundred years ago, the dawn of the 20th century
was far more difficult, only to decelerate and bring us
the most deadly period in all of history. But then, just
as now, we had a gift called Rosh Hashana, and we had an
invaluable companion, called the Torah – the Torah
of life and direction – a co-traveler through history
that has always been at our side through thick or thin,
through the worst of times and the best of times, to illuminate
and inspire us. And above all – to help us transcend
the immediate challenges and see the bigger picture, and
in the process – gather strength and clarity to forge
A century ago, the Rebbe Rashab (Rabbi Sholom Ber), delivered the classic
series of discourses, called Samach-Vav (short for the Hebrew
year 5666). Over the past year, every few weeks, this column
has attempted to tackle the central developing themes of
this fundamental series of 61 discourses. (The entire series
of articles, plus a running summary and related commentaries,
can be found in our special Samach-Vav
section on our website).
This week’s Samach-Vav
discourse, in true style, illuminates the deeper meaning and enormous power
of Rosh Hashana.
What is higher, the Rebbe
Rashab asks, heaven or earth? Which is superior: spirit or matter? The Talmud
offers two opinions: The school of Shammai argues that heaven precedes and
is greater than earth. The school of Hillel disagrees and feels that earth
precedes and is superior to heaven.
Samach-Vav explains that
both opinions are correct, each addressing a different perspective. On the
conscious level of existence, the “cosmic order,” heaven precedes earth. But
from the perspective of the purpose of existence, earth is the ultimate
purpose, while heaven is only a means to an end.
The process of implementing
any plan (say, real-estate development) consists of various stages, from abstract
strategizing to written designs and charts, from the skeleton layout to the
final product. Obviously, the early planning stages must precede the actual
building. But the initial purpose of the entire plan, and all its stages,
is fulfilled only with the final finished structure. As we sing in the Friday
night Lecho Dodi prayer: “Sof maaseh b’machshovo techila,” “Last in action,
first in thought.” Or in the expression of the Sefer Yetzirah (Book of Formation):
“The end is wedged in the beginning; the beginning in the end.”
The entire purpose of
all of creation, including the highest levels of heaven and the loftiest dimensions
of spirituality, is that the human being should transform the material earth
into a Divine home. In doing so, each of us creates something entirely new
– something possible only on earth, not in heaven.
All the spiritual dimensions,
even the highest revelations, are ultimately nothing more than just that:
revelation. They only reveal higher states of consciousness. Nothing new is
generated. But the selfless act in a selfish world, the kind gesture in a
callous environment, like the lowly seed planted in the ground, can give birth
to new fruit. The inedible seed can produce a delicious crop.
In the mystical language
of the sefirot: All the sefirot are spiritual expressions of the Divine, which
do no not innovate or create anything new, only reveal that which is higher
than them. Malchut, however, is rooted in the Essence (“The end is wedged
in the beginning”), which is beyond any revelation, and includes many things
that are not transmitted in the light. Therefore Malchut has the power to
actually create anew, while even Keter creates levels that are relatively
new, but they are still sublime. Malchut carries the power of creating the
material existence, which is a truly new entity.
The same is true in our
work of refining the sparks: The primary objective of refining the material
universe is fulfilled on earth, in our “lowest” world, where the Divine is
completely concealed. Here, you have to create a new state of being; matter
must be converted into spirit, the inclination to narcissistic survival must
be transformed into becoming a selfless channel that serves a higher calling.
discourses Samach-Vav discussed the two types
of souls and two types of service: The soul of Atzilut which
is an extension of the Divine, and therefore serves like
a son who has access to the inner revelations of the Divine.
The soul of B’iya, which is a “new” entity
outside of the Divine and serves like a simple servant through
hard work and earns its right to the divine through exertion
(unlike a son that naturally inherits his father’s
Despite the greatness
of the Tzaddik (the soul of Atzilut), the true innovation and the purpose
of creation is fulfilled by the “simple servant,” for only he truly creates
a new energy.
In probing the dynamics
of innovation and creation, Samach-Vav defines two conditions necessary for
true innovation: 1) The simple servant is under the control of the material
domain and has no natural spiritual inclination. Thus his choice of Divine
service is a complete and unprecedented transformation from a materially driven
individual to one totally subjugated to the Divine. 2) The effort – and its
results – is completely self generated, not due to any other infusion
or help, or a result of a ready-made product. When someone else does the work
for you, you are getting a ready made product. And it therefore does not contain
the innovation, and resulting pleasure, of self-initiated effort.
Higher souls, who have
an innate sense of the Divine, do not create real transformation, only revelation.
Only by the self-generated hard work below fulfills the ultimate purpose of
existence: To transform the material universe into a Divine home – a truly
new innovation, drawing down unprecedented energy from the very Essence of
One of the biggest questions of life is whether it’s
all worth it. After all the difficult challenges that life
presents, after all the pain and loss, what do we ultimately
achieve with our lives? Do we actually have the power to
generate something worthwhile, or is life one aimless battle
to make ends meet? Is there something to life that is more
than just mere survival? Do our choices and actions make
a difference in the world, or are they merely arbitrary?
Rosh Hashana – as illuminated
by Samach-Vav – offers us a powerful and unique answer: Precisely through
the difficult challenge of overcoming darkness, with no Divine revelation,
our self-generated effort draws down new, unprecedented energy and fulfills
the purpose of all existence.
Many of our activities are about reshaping the old. We
tinker with what we are given and try to produce something
nicer. But our greatest achievement, one that gives us the
most satisfaction, is when we create something new.
Yes indeed, we have the
power to create. Not just reveal, expose, actualize potential, but to innovate
– to birth something utterly new, never before experienced. Each of us has
a unique contribution to make, to a play a song that has never ever been played
As this complicated year comes to an end and we are about
to enter the unknown of a new year, it is quite refreshing
and empowering to know that this Rosh Hashana brings with
it “a new and more sublime light that has never yet
shone since the beginning of the world.” Its manifestation,
however, depends on our initiatives.
As this new, unprecedented energy enters into our universe,
the big question we must ask ourselves is this: What will
my new contribution be this new year? What exclusive energy
will I generate?
You are an original.
What will be your unique creation? What will you birth this coming year?
* * *
Question of the week: What are your
wishes for the New Year?
a question for future weeks.