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Rabbi Kalmar's Shabbat Shuva Message 5781

“Teshuva With Every Breath – Live Life!”

There was an Italian man who got covid and had breathing trouble and was put on a ventilator and recovered.  And after he recovered the hospital gave him a bill for 3500 euro – 500 euro a day for 7 days on a ventilator.  The man looked at the bill that the hospital sent him and he sat down to cry.  The secretary who handed it to him was a little distraught -didn’t know what to do – she  said to him – sir – we hope you understand, that the hospital has to be able to make money, if you have a hardship we can try to do something for you.  The man said – you don’t understand – I’m not crying for the 500 euro per day – I’m crying because for the first 60 years of my life I got to breathe for free – and I never appreciated it.

From looking at the liturgy - it would seem like Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur – this time of year – are all about life.

Examples from the shemoneh esreh – all the insertions:  Zachreinu LiChaim – remember us for life, Melech Chofetz BaChaim – the King who desires life, Zocher Yetzurav lichaim birachamim, remembers his  creations for life with mercy, Uchisov Lichaim Tovim kol benei brisecha, and Inscribe for life all of the children of your covenant,  Kosveinu Bisefer HaChaim, etc.  bisefer chaim… in the book of life… may we be remembered before you… lichaim tovim ulishalom – to a good life and to peace.

All four of those insertions exhort God to give us life, good life, inscribe us in the book of life, merciful life.   At this time of year – we are focused on life.  Which makes sense – how can we do anything meaningful with our lives if we don’t have them.   We are asking God for more life – so we can do more with it.

R. Aaron Lopiansky, in his book Time Pieces, points out that the placement of these four insertions is very strange.   Anyone who knows about the structure of the central prayer – the Amidah – knows that there is a three part structure – the first part is praise to God, the middle part is where we are to make the requests of God and final part is a thank you to God.    We know that the first three blessings are meant to encompass the praise and the last three are the thanks and requests are left for the middle.  So on fast days when we say Aneinu – asking God for help during times of trouble – it goes in the middle section.  Nacheim – asking God for comfort on Tisha B’av goes in the middle.  Extra personal requests for help – can also be added to the middle blessings.

So – why do we put the requests for life in the first three blessings and in the last three?  They really belong to the middle section of the Amidah – we are asking God for something – it should be in the request section – not in the praise or thanks section.

Based on the thought of the Maharal, Rabbi Lopiansky answers this question by explaining that the life that we are blessed with is more than just a platter to place the bounty of this world upon. 

Life – human life – is where the Godly touches the earthly – when it talks about how man was created it says – (Bereishit 2:7) וַיִּפַּח בְּאַפָּיו, נִשְׁמַת חַיִּים; וַיְהִי הָאָדָם, לְנֶפֶשׁ חַיָּה.

and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.

When we are alive – it means we are somehow connected to God’s eternal existence.  And although the life that we live on this planet is for a limited time, our souls are eternal because they are connected to the eternal of the Eternal One.

Therefore, when we talk about life – life is part of the nature of God’s essence.  So that’s why we talk about God being the Makor Chaim – the source of life – and not the Nosein Chaim – the giver of life.  Life’s source is God’s essence.      Hence when we are asking for life – it is not a request for an external need – like asking for food or wisdom or even salvation – we are praising God’s existence by requesting life – and we are thanking God for giving us a soul – by living life.   Asking for life is the same thing as praising and thanking God – because life is with Hashem.  Life is with God.  That’s why these requests for life belong in the sections of the Amidah which are praise of and thanks to, God.

The soul that God gave us is a gift.  Every moment that we use that soul – we are praising God.

But He gave us that soul pure and untarnished.  Every time we use our soul for doing something negative – we are negating God’s purpose for us in this world.  Every time we do something good – we are affirming God’s decision to grant his essence to us.    So the supreme act of Teshuva – of return – is to do something good with our bodies and our souls – which is bringing us back closer to that pure and untarnished state of being that we started with.    We can accomplish Teshuva – just by drawing a breath and using that breath to do good deeds, to say beneficial and kind things, and even just to think good thoughts.

Every breath has value.  One of the terrible features of Covid-19 is trouble with breathing.  When one can’t breathe well – all of a sudden the fact that we take it for granted is shaken.  That Italian man broke down crying when he realized that fact – when he had to pay for his breaths – made him think about the value of life.  The value of a breath.

The Medresh Rabbah (Bereishis 14:9) captures this idea beautifully:

ר' לוי בשם ר' חנינא אומר: על כל נשימה ונשימה שאדם נושם צריך לקלס לבוראו. מאי טעמא?

R. Levi said in the name of Rabbi Chanina – for each and every breath a person breathes he needs to praise the Creator. What is the reason?

(תהלים קנ ו): "כל הנשמה תהלל יה" -.

Every soul should praise God – Tehillim tells us

כל הנשימה תהלל יה

Every ‘breath’ should praise God.   It could be read.

The Psalms are telling us, says the Medresh, that not only does every soul need to praise God, but every soul needs to use every breath to praise God.    This fits in well with the Maharal’s point – life is a gift from God that is really part of His Essence – so every second that we are using that life well – every breath we take for the good – is a praise of Him.  

So if you want to know how to do Teshuvah during a year of Corona – take a deep breath.  Using your life – to think positively, to speak positively, to live Godly.  You are doing Teshuvah just by doing that.

Mon, March 8 2021 24 Adar 5781