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Breathe Your Way Through Evil

By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim

Dr. Tal Ben Shachar, renowned Harvard Happiness lecturer suggests a very surprising technique that can be used on a daily basis to promote a feeling of tranquility and happiness.

Friends, we begin sounding the Shofar every day from Rosh Chodesh Elul. Maimonides writes that although the reason for the Mizvah of Shofar is one that is beyond our comprehension, the Mitzvah hints “Wake up sleepers from your slumber.”

I would like to humbly suggest that perhaps the Mitzvah of Shofar has another hint, a hint that proves to be very useful for our daily lives. The Mitzvah of Shofar is fulfilled in a very unique way. It is essentially fulfilled by the process of exhaling – after inhaling of course. The MItzvah is to hear the sound of exhaling, channeled through an animals horn. So exhaled breath is what it is all about. Let us begin by analyzing the meaning of the breath in Judaism. Breathing and living are considered so synonymous that the Talmud states that a persons breath can be used as a Halachicaly reliable means of determining the living status of a person. This accords well with the account of human creation in the book of Genesis. God breathed into Man a breath of life and Man became a living entity. Our sages say that this refers to the injection of a ‘neshama’ – soul – into the lifeless earthly body. It is also fascinating to note that in the hebrew language the word for soul ‘neshama’ and breath ‘neshima’ have the very same root words.

It seems therefore that it would be logical to conclude that the meaning of the exhalation breathing Mitzvah of Shofar is an expression of dedication of our very essence and lives to God. This takes place on the very day we commemorate God infusing man with the soul-breath of life. It expresses the willingness to dedicate our lives beyond our own physical bodies for the greater good – the giving of our spirits. We are reminded that our lives only have true value if we are net exhalers, if we give generously of our spirits to God and our fellow man.

Dr. Tal. Ben Shachar explains that scientific research has found that taking just a few deep, conscious breaths a few times a day has a profound effect on feeling relaxed, peaceful and happy. Furthermore, he said that this is most effective when the out breath is longer than the in breath. Philosophically speaking, the reason for this is now easily understood. The breath is a gateway to the soul and therefore conscious breathing puts us in touch with our spiritual essence, which in turn, promotes feelings of well-being and happiness. The esoteric meaning of the out breath being longer than the in breath is simply: one gives more of ones life and soul than one takes. What better message could there be for the month of Elul than to become aware of ones essence and to ensure that we are generous in giving of the good, divine light of our souls to God and humanity.

In a similar vein Confucius once said, “When you breathe, you inspire, and when you do not breathe, you expire.” So I encourage us all to have a year full of life, full of breath and with good healthy exhalation giving. May we all merit a year of the breath of life.