Baruch Elkins, Buffalo Grove, Illinois
MyLife Essay Contest 2018
בראשית ברא אלקים את השמים ואת הארץ
The best manner to begin this humble work is to quote the first 7 words of the Holy Torah. The Chassidic concept of continuous, uninterrupted and unending creation by The Eibishte so beautifully presented by The Alter Rebbe in Chapter 2 of his Tanya’s Shaar Hayichud Vehaemunah is so important to contemporary life, so critical to my life and your life; I have chosen it as the theme of my essay submission. During a simcha, the question of “Why?” is never asked. Nobody ever uttered the question, “Why did I win the lottery?” In good times, there is no need to wonder why. The vast majority of us may utter aloud or to ourselves a quick “Baruch Hashem” and then we move on with our activities; however, chas v’shalom a difficulty is placed in our way and the majority of us have the first instinct to think, “Why me?”
Please reader, even question then my habit of the overused term “chas v’shalom.” As the Eibishte is in control, isn’t every happening or experienced by definition blessed? The answer is of course, yes.
The Chassidic concept of continuous creation allows us the gift to receive a great understanding of the workings of this universe. Again I’m reminded of The Alter Rebbe’s comparison to a metal smith and their final vessel product having no need for them once formed. Unlike the metal smith, the concept of continuous creation of the universe demonstrates that every moment, every experience whether what we may view as happy or sad, tragic or hopeful, grand large or infinitely small has been created in this way for a purpose and a mission in this material world of inanimate objects, plants and animals and we human beings.
Although referenced in many sources, I’m particularly drawn to the Rambam’s brief statement in the sixth proposition of Chapter LXXIII of Guide for the Perplexed: “…creation takes place continually and without interruption.”
With this framework, we must view the existence of cancer cells, all medical diseases and conditions as well as the scientific discovery of a new star or a baby’s first smile creations by The Eibishte’s intent and purpose.
One can study for a test and make an “A” and not study and make an “A” as well. Likewise, one can study for a test and make an “F” and not study and make an “F” as well. To most experiences we can fool ourselves, convince ourselves we understand the connections between action and result and for the most part, we live comfortably performing these rationalizations to keep feelings of security, safety close to our heart and minds. For most of us this dazed habit serves us badly and allows us to move through life not appreciating the beauty and harmony and purposefulness of our universe.
The challenge, dare I say opportunity, is to confront the struggle. Allow one to contemplate the “Why?” of all situations and experiences so that the ultimate answer is:
בראשית ברא אלקים את השמים ואת הארץ
Acknowledging this perpetual cycle of creation will drive the recognition of HaShem’s hand in our daily lives, quite literally, our blessed lives.
Paying attention and acknowledging all happenings under this concept sets the premise for all that follows. The immediate recognition of asking the question “Why?” is asserting the yetzer hara within us. This is truly understood now as the driving force behind this three letter question. The supposing that we should be able to understand is the trap set for us by the yetzer hara and the feelings that follow are the bread crumbs down the wrong trail away from (פון ליבע די) The Eibishte.
Let me be clear in the lesson here being discussed. The opportunity provided to us, just as The Eibishte continuously creates this universe, so our duty is clear to view His creation with awe and respect with the goal of even emulating Avraham Avinu escorting his son Yitzchak to the akedah as if he was walking him to the chuppah!
The Alter Rebbe’s teaching of how a Beneini’s virtuous struggles brings one closer to HaShem. Think of the candle flame and how it is continuously created in the same direction, reaching up to Shamayim.
- Pay attention to every moment and make every moment an opportunity to remember HaShem throughout the day.
- Recognize the huge responsibility we are offered every moment to improve ourselves in our service to HaShem.
- Identify explicit times of the day when you bring this Chassidic idea of continuous creation to the forefront of your mind. I have found taking a few minutes before davening to contemplate Hashem’s ongoing creation sets the stage for a strong kavana.
The exercises are meant to cause one to live in the moment, to pay attention at all moments. Attentiveness promotes awareness and acknowledgement of our blessed existence and duty to extol HaShem. With diligent practice, one will begin to accept and praise Him.
Necessarily one will never be thankful for receiving the blessing of a cancer diagnosis; however, certainly there’s opportunity and decisions to be made if this comes your way.
The goal is not to float through life’s experiences with a fake smile. The goal is to embrace every moment and happening in life whether it is immediately experienced and digested by our mind as “good” or “bad.”
In practice, the realization of The Eibishte’s continuous and uninterrupted cycle of creation allows us to achieve a feeling of peacefulness and balance. To explicitly demonstrate how this is performed, take note of the following six important actions:
One for each day of the week, let’s consider each of these actions and their connectedness to continuous creation and in turn show how these thought tools provide a path to a happier, more fulfilled life.
For example, consider the first day of the week, Sunday, “breathing” day. On this day, from Modeh Ani until you recite the bedtime Sh’ema allow yourself to consciously experience breathing as you never have. Breathing is automatic and happens all day with or without your notice; however, on this day, take the time to notice your inhalations and exhalations throughout the day. Connect the continuous process of breathing to the continuous and uninterrupted creation performed by HaShem every moment. Do not be alarmed if periods of the day go by without noticing. Take advantage of those moments when you do notice in order to make that an enriching experience. At first, this may have to be done in a quiet place; however, quickly you’ll achieve the ability to notice your breathing regardless of your circumstances. Most importantly, connecting ones automatic and continuous breathing with HaShem’s intentional and continuous process of creation will form even stronger bonds between you and The Eibishte.
On the second day of the week, Monday in our example, work to be attentive to all that is going on around you. Even if your day is spent studying, there is a multitude of processes surrounding you. People are coming and going; the clock’s hands are moving; the sunlight and shadows are changing. Be attentive to yourself and others actions and movements. Ensure to the best of your ability you are focusing part of your energy in observing Olam HaZeh. Walk with intentional steps as you move through your day. This act of concentration on the world around you needs to be linked to The Eibishte. As you pass through the day in this focused manner, plant the thought, “This is HaShem.” This will solidify the connection.
The third day, Tuesday, brings the opportunity to experience “listening” as you’ve never experienced before. As you speak, make an effort to listen to your own words and as others speak, make an effort to tune into their words with no outside distraction. Throughout our day we have continuous stimulation onto our senses from all around us. On this day, make strong efforts to focus in on people you interact with and notice this takes effort. Work to not only hear the baracha being said but visualizing the words, the letters, the song notes both high and low. This does not come automatically. Just as the renewal of the universe every moment by HaShem doesn’t come automatically. He performs with intent.
On Wednesday, the fourth day of the week we focus on “perceiving.” This day’s theme is working to perceive the world around us. As we pick up a book make efforts to feel the book binding in your hand; as you walk, take note of your feet in your shoes. Work to be present in the moment when you’re holding a pen; notice the pen in your hand and pay attention to the fingers you use to grasp it. If you wear eye glasses, it has been a while since you actually perceived your glasses. Remove your glasses and examine them; look at the material, the hinges, and the lenses. Now put them back on and look around at the frame. Perhaps you haven’t noticed the frames of our eye glasses in many years. This attention to perceiving detail is critical throughout today. As before, make that explicit connection back to HaShem by acknowledging His active participation in your life. Perceiving the world in a fresh and new manner brings the connection to the continuous renewal of the Universe by The Eibishte.
With Thursday comes “Absorption.” This is a day to take explicit notice of all that is going on around you. This is the day to see yourself as an integral link in the chain of all the events around you. Notice in how many circumstances you are involved. This could be a classroom or a place of business; this could be a study session or a totally disjoint activity. The goal of the day is to submerge oneself, consciously, into your daily activities. Be aware of all around you and notice the harmony and beauty of this existence. A solid approach to this day is to simultaneously work to be immersing one in the daily activities while ensuring to remind you to be present to experience the day as moves through the regular cycle. These touch base times may be before and directly after davening or perhaps before or after a meal or snack. The act of losing oneself in daily activities is totally normal given the vast amount of stimuli that bombard us each moment. This perception we grant ourselves to be absorbed into our daily lives while understanding every moment is a new moment for us to take advantage of and use it wisely is truly a conduit back to the Chassidic teaching of the continuous and uninterrupted creation by HaShem of this universe.
As for the sixth day, Friday, we come to the exercise of “Thankfulness.” Of course, this doesn’t discount being thankful to all days; however, the goal on this day is to keep this thought in the forefront of your mind throughout the day. The answer is of course the immediate material, “I’m thankful for this book.” More so, push further to where the book originated and work up stream. Ultimately, the answer will be The Eibishte. This realization allows us to forge connections between items in our lives that may be more challenging to recognize their inherent holiness as well as holy material items or actions that the hand of HaShem is clearer.
Please note there are only six exercises, one for each day of the week as on the 7th day, Shabbas these tasks are not needed. On Shabbas, we are by definition brought closer to The Eibishte by the Holy day and our prayers and actions prescribed for this day. In fact, all six of our lessons expounded above are by definition part of the Shabbas experience.
After Shabbas ebbs away and the first day begins, so must our efforts increase in order to appreciate the universe in which we live; The Eibishte’s continuous renewal of our universe.
The Chassidic concept of The Eibishte’s continual creation of the universe allows us to observe more clearly His influence on our daily lives. This concept provides a mechanism to embrace the happenings of our world and removes the labels of “good” and “bad”, replacing these labels with the opportunity to embrace The Eibishte’s continuous and uninterrupted will.
בראשית ברא אלקים את השמים ואת הארץ