AN ONION FROM BRESLEV
In Kiddush Levana, we mention something odd. We praise G-d for making a world that runs like clockwork, and for the fact that all of nature serves G-d happily. And then, this is what we say, ×•×œ×œ×‘× ×” ××ž×¨ ×©×ª×ª×—×“×© ×¢×˜×¨×ª ×ª×¤××¨×ª ×œ×¢×ž×•×¡×™ ×‘×˜×Ÿ ×©×’× ×”× ×¢×ª×™×“×™× ×œ×”×ª×—×“×© ×›×ž×•×ª×” ×•×œ×¤××¨ ×œ×™×•×¦×¨× ×¢×œ ×©× ×›×‘×•×“ ×ž×œ×›×•×ª×•. And to the moon, He said â€œBecome new!â€, a crown of glory to those who have a well-laden stomach (the Jewish Nation); they, also, will experience renewal in the future (in the times of Mashiach), and they will glorify their Maker, for His Honorable Name and Kingship.
We, the Jewish People, are similar to the moon, in the sense that we share the nature for renewal. Why is the Jewish Nation comparable to a pregnant woman? Because the greatest renewal in the world is having a baby, bringing new life into the world. The biggest change in a personâ€™s life is when the first child arrives. The coming of Mashiach, the period in which we presently find ourselves, is called ×—×‘×œ×™ ×ž×©×™×—, the birth pangs of Mashiach. Why birth pangs? Because that is the greatest pain prior to the greatest renewal. And of course, whenever there is a renewal, there is pain. It is one of the laws of nature.
The Midrash teaches that the Mitzvah of Kiddush HaHodesh was a sort of Kiddushin, or engagement, with the Jewish People in this world. G-d gave his people a present: the responsibility for establishing the lunar month through the Bet Din. In the times of Mashiach, things will be different. Then, when we will be â€œmarried to G-dâ€; He will put â€œeverythingâ€ in our hands, not only the moon (Shemot Rabbah 15; 31). Râ€™ Asher Weiss, shlit”a explains that this is why Ashkenazim coin the blessing for the new moon â€œKiddushâ€ Levana. Even though Kiddush Levana is something only Beit Din would do, when two witnesses testified that they spotted the first sliver of the moon at the onset of the new month, still, the blessing is called Kiddush Levana because it reminds us of our “engagement” to G-d. This is the present G-d gave us for This World, until the coming of Mashiach, as our engagement ring. The mitzvah of the new moon. The ability to renew ourselves. The ability to recreate. Because that is the only way we can be redeemed.
I am currently writing a book about identity and identity renewal. Identity is among the pinnacle topics in self-help, because every crisis in life is no more than an identity crisis. Midlife crisis, teenage crisis, business crisis – all are identity crises. A crisis forces one to renew his identity, in order to deal better with the challenges that he faces. Our Rabbis teach that there are many similarities between Pharaoh and the Yetzer Hara. I think that one similarity is that a person identifies with his source of income and worships it, as if â€œthis business provides me with all my needs. As long as I have my business, everything will be fine.â€ Pharaoh said, ×œ×™ ×™××•×¨×™ ×•×× ×™ ×¢×©×™×ª×™× ×™ , The Nile is mine, and I created myself. He believed that he created the Nile, the source of life for Egypt. He believed that he made himself great. This is how the Yetzer persuades us to think. The only way a person can free himself of that attitude is when G-d brings ten personal plagues, of sorts, on him; he realizes that he is subservient to G-d. And then, he is forced to face reality and change identity. He is forced to peel off his ineffective beliefs, all the lies that he has been living. Here is a part of the chapter, AN ONION FROM BRESLEV.
Did you ever peel an onion? Can you remember that feeling, uncontrollable teary eyes, as you peeled? R’ Nachman from Breslev said that a Jew is like an onion. The more layers you peel, the more tears flow. The only way to get down to knowing who you really are is by the peeling process. Our identity shines forth in hard times, when we pray to G-d for guidance, with tears.
Identity is confusing. Who am I, anyway? Who I want to be? What I did? What people told me I am? What people told me I can become? My strengths? My weaknesses? My community? My family? Am I my grade at school? The label that some teacher gave me? Am I the way I behave or the way I think? Am I my profession, or the amount of money I make? Some people take these questions to the grave.
R’ Nachman said a Jew is always an onion. Allow me to slice this concept one sliver further. Onions have different blessings, depending on how you prepare them. If you eat them raw or cook them, you make a blessing of Shehakol. If you fry them or bake them, you make Ha’adama. The more you prepare the onion to be what an onion’s true identity is, the higher the level of the blessing that one makes on it. The way that a Jew prepares himself for performance in different life situations will be his identity. The more he prepares himself, the higher level of a person he is.
In other words, your identity is in your mind. How you work on yourself, how you grow and mature. Identity is a lifelong process. Identity is an action, not a state of being. The biggest mistake you can make in your life is to believe that your identity is a label that someone – even you, yourself, gave you. Your identity is far greater than that. It is much more dynamic. But one word of warning. Once you die, that is it. Your identity is solid, forever and ever. For the World- to-come. This world is a place where we live a whole life, learning how to die. Solidifying who we want to be. That is the meaning of “life” for a Jew.
And that, I believe, is the reason why the Jewish Nation, needs to go through this Exile, what we go through. It is all some sort of process of identity, discovering who we are, and who we are not. Once we identify ourselves with Mashiach, how much we need him, he will come. Once we realize, how much we need each other as a People, Mashiach will come. Once we realize, that the only way to live a happy and healthy, emotional and physical lifestyle, is by living a life designed by the Torah, we will be redeemed.
Râ€™ Z. Wallerstien asked, Why is this mitzvah of Kiddush Levana given to the Jewish People at this climatic point of the story, where Moshe warned Pharaoh of the upcoming Plague of the Firstborn, informing him that this will be the final plague before the Nation leaves? Right then, the story freezes, and G-d gives us the Mitzvah of Kiddush Hahodesh. It is so strange!
The answer is identity and its renewal. The Jewish people were so low, spiritually and emotionally, that they did not feel able to leave their servitude to Pharaoh to become servants of G-d. How could they become princes of G-d? How could they change their identity so fast?
G-d showed Moshe the moon and said, “Even though it is so small, just a sliver, it is the new moon. You can barely see it, but give it 15 days, and it will shine in full glory”. We needed to have this ability of renewal before the Exodus, because that was the only way to become the new nation that could be redeemed.