A Drash for Rosh HaShanah (5776)
by Marc Mangel
Today is the birthday of the world. In fact, in the portion of Tanya that is read by Chabad today, the Alter Rebbe talks about creation ex-nihilo, ie the big bang.
We can ask: Why was the world created? My answer is inspired by the maamar Full Devotion of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
Every interpreter brings aspects of the more general society when framing interpretation. That’s why we have so many allusions to God the king – for most of human history, rulers were kings.
I am a scientist so bring the metaphor of God as scientist.
Particularly, my metaphor is that God has the hypothesis that a physical world populated with beings that have free will can be a spiritual place. How can this hypothesis be tested?
What God needs from us is data.
The first implication is that when we work to achieve separation from the physical word – to connect on supernal, ethereal planes of Godly energy – we are not providing any data. God knows that the heavenly, higher worlds are spiritual places. Going there is nice for us but does not help answer the big question about this world.
Second, we have a “lab” manual – the Torah – and “equipment” – the mitzvoth – that can be used to provide the data to answer the question of whether this physical world can be a spiritual place.
Every time we
- Light Shabbat candles rather than just let the sun set on Friday; or
- Put on tefillin rather than just get on with our morning; or
- Hang a mezuzah on the door rather than leave it off; or
- Give tzedaka willingly and without being asked or reminded; or
- Eat a vegetarian or fish meal rather than a meat meal in a non-kosher restaurant or buy a heckshered product in the grocery store rather than a non-heckshered one; or
- Choose to read a Jewish book rather than a secular one; or
- Control rather than lose our temper; or
- Say a blessing before eating rather than just digging in; or
- Honor our aged but difficult parents rather getting short with them; or
- Treat every person with respect and kindness rather than scoffing and mocking; or
- Remember that all of our actions have consequences – some far reaching – rather than acting without thinking; or
- Avoid modern day idols rather than chase after money, things, or honors; or
- Choose not to spend money or do our secular work on Shabbat even if we drive to synagogue; or
- Eat to satisfaction but not to over-stuffing
we turn physical things or actions into spiritual ones.
Doing so, we provide a data point showing that this physical world inhabited by creatures with free will can indeed be a spiritual place. The choice is ours.
Today is the birthday of the world.
And it is the first day of our intense period of introspection about how we want to change in the coming year. Let us keep in mind that each of our actions provides a data point towards the answer of why the world was created.
Here’s a thought: Maybe Mashiach will come only when we have provided incontrovertible evidence, through our actions, that this physical world can indeed be a spiritual place.
And that is why the world was created.