Saturday, January 1, 2011

Reflections on a Decade of Zeroes

Wow! We made it to the end of another year. 2010 will soon be history, and we shall embark on a new decade.

I recall eleven years ago as we entered year 2000. I remember thinking to myself, what shall we call the new decade? The "Zeroes?" After all these years, the glorious Seventies, Eighties and Nineties... Is that all we amount to now? Zero?

That year, New Year's Eve was Friday night and New Year's Day was Shabbat morning, just like this year. Everyone thought the world would come to an end at midnight of Y2K because of some sort of alleged computer glitch, and there was widespread feeling of discontent. Everything is returning to zero. Zilch!

Living in S Diego at the time, Dvora and I advertised a big Friday Night service and dinner. "End off the millennium in the right place," our flyer declared. "Don't worry about Y2K... it's Shabbat today!" Needless to say, we had a tough time competing with the nightclubs, in spite of Y2K apprehension.

The next morning in synagogue, our congregants seemed relieved that society didn’t shut down. At the kiddush, we discussed the above question, how shall we refer to the current decade? The Zeroes?

I explained that this is a powerful lesson in the purpose and nature of our existence. G-d created the world from absolute nothingness. In fact, ever since the moment of Creation, G-d has been continually recreating our universe from absolute nothingness, and is doing so each and every moment (more accurately, every infinitesimally small unit of time). If He’d stop, even momentarily, we’d revert to what we originally were, absolute nothingness. As such, explains Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the author of the Tanya, existence is not our natural state, but is rather artificial. Instead, the natural state of the universe is utter and complete nothingness. In other words, the whole world as we know it is really, in essence, one big Zero.

The only way a zero becomes meaningful is if there is a one in front of it. The oneness of “Hashem Echad” – “G-d is One.”

So that’s the meditation that pulled me through the Zeroes.

The most unsettling date that defined our national mindset in the Zeroes was the horrific tragedies of September 11th, ’01. It ended our sense of national complacency and invincibility. The towering World Trade Center, once a formidable symbol of our invincible economy, was reduced to Ground Zero.

It was during this decade that brutal dictators were toppled and others rose to take their place. And here we are at the close of the decade, when our enemies brazenly threaten nuclear attack on Israel, vying once more to destroy our nation and its six million inhabitants, may Hashem bless and guard them. And the whole world sits by quietly.

I remember thinking during the turbulent times of September ‘01, “Don’t despair. We may have been reduced to zero, but G-d is One. We will survive.”

Indeed, the world is zero. The “zero”ness (is that a word? Hey, I think I may have something in common with President Bush) of our world is meaningless if it places itself before the One, as in 01. But if we put G-d’s existence first, if we make the pursuit of revealing G-dliness the paramount purpose of our existence, then we become meaningful, as in the number 10 (remember the Ten Commandments?)

To be more precise, the world is zero, but we are not. “Who is like Your people Israel, one nation on earth!” cried King Solomon the Wise. Chassidut teaches that we are one because we proclaim the Oneness of G-d “on earth.” In a deeper sense, we are one when we are united. When we are not united, G-d forbid, we are zero.

Our enemies will not succeed in their evil designs, because G-d is One. And we are one.

Anyway, enough talk about zeroes. Let’s move on.

It’s the Teens now.

That sounds like a pretty formidable challenge. Everyone knows that raising teens is no small feat.

So will it be the Terrible Teens or the Terrific Teens? That is up to us.

Meanwhile, as the new secular year enters, the first numbers we encounter are 1/1/11. The lesson: let’s keep focused on those Ones. Enough with the zero’s already.

So I’ll see you in Shul tomorrow morning, 1/1/11, and together as one we’ll recite “G-d is One!”

Shabbat Shalom!
Rabbi Green