Harry Zeitlin
Grateful Every Day, Modeh Ani Lefanecha!


A well-known principle in Kabbalah is that of descent for the sake of later ascent, as it says in Mishlei (24:16), “a Tzaddik falls seven times and then he rises.” Much of the world of  Chassidut (see, especially, the Meor Aynayim (the first Chernobler Rebbe) provides a way of understanding our falls as the mechanism by which we are directed to descend in order to retrieve and then redeem those klippot, broken shards embedded deep in the very structure of Creation, that are directly connected to our individual neshamot, souls, in order to repair and restore Creation to its originally intended state.

As the universe was originally created, it hadn’t yet developed the capacity to give and receive (one of our prime contributions as human beings is to bring that momentum/relationship into existence). Thus with the enormous input of Divine/Cosmic energy and no place to keep it, it shattered into small pieces scattered all over the universe, leaving everything with the unrealizable potential of infinite creativity, but unable to exercise it until it was reorganized and reconnected, until we repair, m’taken it.

On Shavuot, God Himself descends, comes down to our level, in order to give us Torah. Following His own rules (as it were), just as we do, he descended in order to rise, to bring each of us as individuals, and to all of us together as Am Yisrael, Torah, as yet defective as we, The Jewish People, are not yet involved and fully engaged with it through it’s system of mitzvot (both “commandments, but, more deeply, mechanism of joining together) in order to recognize each Jew and raise each of us up to our unique highest level.

As Moshe is commanded to take our census, the count (or, literally, to raise the head) of every Jew, according to our name, our true name, all the combinations and permutations of the letters (with their associated numbers (gematria)), encompassing the entirety of our personalities and our capacities to love and form relationships with God and with other people and with all Creation. Also according to Gilg’lutam, literally according to our skulls (perhaps our intellectual capabilities) but also according to the pre-determined (but as yet unrevealed (to us)) incarnations each of us will have to undergo in order to complete our individual journeys/missions upon this earth, within this life.

Our process/mission/obligation is to repeatedly go down, to descend into the sweaty world of work and effort and frequent disappointment and failure, to eventually transform all our challenges into the successes of achievement and purification, filtering away the energy of failures while presenting to the world the rectified version (this is the actual real meaning of tikkun olam, perhaps the most misused (too often deliberately) and mis-understood concept in contemporary Judaism) of every aspect of reality as it is ultimately fashioned and designed by the Holy Creator Himself.

It’s important to know, each time we re-engage and face a new challenge, that initial failure is probably built in, but that it is for our, and the world’s, ultimate benefit. Sort of like reaching all the way to the ground with a ball, in order to hurl it as high as we can, our serial failures until success provide the necessary momentum to eventually succeed, to raise each thing we come into contact with to it’s very highest potential.

We receive the Torah this year, just as we do each year, and, just like each year, we really don’t know what to do with it. We don’t know how to solve the challenges each new encounter with it will present to us. Perhaps our challenge(s) this time will be halachic (details of how to perform Jewish rituals or prayer to to administer an authentic justice system (that transcends our short-term thinking), perhaps they will be ethical. Since everything is included in Torah, these challenges can also come in science, technology, diplomacy….. But, and perhaps this is the sign it’s our authentic, individual challenge, at first we won’t have a clue how to reach a solution.

But built in to the system of Torah is our methodology, which we learn by observing and then imitating the world of Oral Torah, i.e. Talmud, and that’s often by being presented solutions points of view completely different from our own. In the process of refining our own thinking, we can reinforce our original thinking or, more often, adjust it by incorporating other points of view. Acknowledging our own necessarily limited knowledge, both from incomplete information or from unwittingly imposing our likes and dislikes, i.e. emotions, on our “facts”, we rely upon and only grow from the competition of ideas.

There are other times and situations, of course, where other tactics and other methodology applies. The main thing is to always keep in mind that our opinion is likely wrong, or, at best, incomplete, and that we’re just a fragment of the process and the journey to reach the truth. In other words, we need to continuously fall (fail) and rise, to eventually perform our authentic part in the process of Talmud Torah, Torah study (with study as a creative, and not merely passive, action).

May we all face our challenges and failures, even our occasional successes and triumphs, with love and gratitude, and may we continue our efforts and contributions to the overriding project we are, and have been and will be, gifted by this Holy Torah. 

About the Author
After almost 30 years, Harry Zeitlin returned home to Jerusalem! Growing up in Denver, CO, he began Torah studies at an early age. He also had the privilege of knowing and studying with Rabbi Shloime Twerski zt"l. He graduated from Yale College (BA 1974) with an independent degree in communications, theory-and-practice, focusing on filmmaking and linguistics. Harry had a 45+ year career as a professional artist (photography, to which he is just now returning!) and has played guitar for more than 50 years, in addition to his 30+ years as an orthodox rabbi teaching Torah across the denominational spectrum. He lived in Israel from 1982 - 1989 and returned in 2016. I'M BACK! Grateful every day! Follow his spiritual adventures. He is always available to speak, teach, present a Shabbaton or other workshop. ......or to serenade your group with his guitar.
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