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What Do We Want?

The prayers of Rosh Hashanah seem to have two opposite themes.  On the one hand, Rosh Hashanah is the day we crown G-d as our King:  “Reign over the entire world in Your glory… May everything that has been made know that You have made it.”  Rosh Hashanah is also the day that we ask G-d to grant us our needs for the coming year:  “On Rosh Hashanah they are inscribed and on the fast day of Yom Kippur they are sealed:  How many shall pass away and how many shall be born; who shall live and who shall die… who shall enjoy well-being and who shall suffer; who shall be poor and who shall be rich.”

Crowning G-d as king implies that we are standing before Him in abject humility, nullifying ourselves completely in order to accept His sovereignty.  Requesting our needs at such a time seems to conflict with this goal, as it involves a focus on ourselves and our wishes, rather than on G-d.  How do we reconcile the two?

Chassidic teachings explain that in order for G-d to “reign over the entire world,” we need to prepare the world for Him.  When we use our possessions to do mitzvot and acts of kindness, we sanctify the physical world and make it a suitable dwelling place for G-d.  To be able to accomplish this, we ask G-d on Rosh Hashanah to grant us an abundance of physical good – so that we can elevate it and make it holy.

It may seem on the surface that our prayers for physical wealth and comfort have nothing to do with G-d and everything to do with our own desires and temptations.  However, Chassidic thought looks at prayer on a more essential level.  On the verse in Psalms, “Hungry as well as thirsty, their soul enwraps itself in them,” the Baal Shem Tov comments: When the body is hungry or thirsty for physical nourishment, it is actually the soul that is hungry, since it wishes to elevate the holy sparks that sustain that food.

In other words, even though we may think it is our body that wants food, clothing or money, it is actually our soul that craves these things, so we can use them to serve G-d.

This teaching applies also to our yearning for Redemption.  Do we desire Moshiach so we can live in peace and tranquility, without physical burdens and suffering?  Or do we want him to come so that we can finally behold G-d in all His glory, when He finally reveals Himself in this world?

The answer is both, together.  When Moshiach comes, we will experience such a wondrous unity of body and soul, physical and spiritual, that neither one will contradict the other.  Physical pleasure and spiritual pleasure will be like one.  No longer will physicality conceal the rich spiritual world contained within it.  We will behold G-d from within the physical world, within the beauties and delights that He bestows on us with His abundant kindness.

(Based on an address of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Likutei Sichot vol. 19, p. 291)


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