As the High Holidays approach, it’s natural to start thinking about the biggies. Like, who am I? What am I doing with my life? And why is there even a world? God didn’t have to make one!
Rosh Hashanah doesn’t only mean “new year;” it also means “a new head.” What would we give for a new head? A fresh approach to navigating this fantastically mysterious treasure chest we inhabit.
So in the holiday spirit, here is a short guide to a New Headedness.
Let’s begin with a simple but profound truth: The mind believes, but the soul knows.
Let’s try to visualize the difference:
Imagine a submarine immersed in water, far from the clarity of dry land. How does the submarine see beyond itself? There is a periscope that reaches from the top of the submarine, out of the water, and from there, the people on the submarine can see what is going on beyond.
So it is with us. Our body is the submarine. We are surrounded by a world where God is hidden. In Hebrew, the word for “world” (olam) has the same root as the word for “hidden” (ne’elam). This is because God is hidden in this world.
Our soul is like the periscope. It transcends the hiddenness of this world and sees God. As a result, our soul doesn’t have to believe – it knows the existence of God with clarity and certainty.
The question is: how can the mind, which is steeped in the confusion of this world, achieve the same level of clarity as the soul and also come to know?
Here is a three-step plan based on Torah wisdom.
Step One – See
Look at how the Shema is written in the prayer book. Something deep is going on. The last Hebrew letter of the word Shema (hear/understand) and the last Hebrew letter of the word Echad (Oneness) are written in a significantly larger font. Our Rabbis teach that, taken together, these two letters spell the Hebrew word for “witness” (Ayd). If you reverse the two letters, it spells the Hebrew word for “know” (Da) – as in the verse, “Know before Whom you stand.”
In other words, if we “witness” (Ayd) the amazing ways in which God interacts with the world around us – eclipses, babies, ice cream, waterfalls, mind-blowing coincidences, and the internet to name a few – then we will come to “know” with certainty to whom the entirety of creation belongs.
Step Two – Do
When we accepted the Torah at Mount Sinai we made an amazing declaration. We told God that “We will do and we will hear” – in Hebrew, Na’asay v’nishmah. When God heard this declaration, He marveled and asked, “Who taught them the secret of the angels?”
What was so remarkable? With these words “we will do and we will hear,” the Jewish people committed to doing the mitzvahs before we even heard what they were. The Kotzker Rebbe writes that doing first and hearing the explanation later is akin to climbing a ladder. First we do the mitzvah. The holiness that ensues lifts us to a higher spiritual level, and from that increased place of clarity we are now able to hear the Torah in a deeper way. (Cool aside: The Hebrew words for Sinai and Ladder share the same numerical value.)
This process repeats itself over and over. As we do more, we hear better, thereby achieving increasing degrees of spiritual clarity. In this way, we’re able to transform the mind’s belief in God into the soul’s knowledge of God.
I don’t think the first two steps can work without the third step. And it may be possible that the third step will work without the first two steps.
Step Three – Love
The Prophet Hoshaya writes, “I will betroth you with belief and you will know God.” The whole secret of turning belief into knowledge is in the opening words – “I will betroth you!”
If our belief comes from a place of love – then we will know God.
Love is the secret formula. Through love you become one. All else falls away. (Cool aside: Love and One share the same numerical equivalent in Hebrew).
Amazingly, in the Torah, the very first word after the Shema is V’ahavta, and you shall love! God is telling us, if you want to reveal His Oneness, then love Him with all of your heart, and with all of your soul, and with all of your “me’odecha.”
“Me’odecha” is translated as might or money, but literally it means with all of your “very” (me’od). How do we serve God “with all our very”? By taking the fire of our hearts, the things we feel most strongly about in life, and using them to serve God.
Rosh Hashanah is coming. Our new heads are arriving! If we want the latest model – one where our minds have the same clarity as our souls – then see, do, and most importantly love.