Photo Credit: Jewish Press

There may be nothing more enchanting, mystical, and mysterious than the wonder of music. In our previous article, we began to develop a deeper understanding of the concept of music, its cyclical nature, and the Torah ideas related to circles. To review, a circle represents spiritual death. It is a geometric anomaly; it is the only shape with no newness – no turns, no corners, and no changes. No point on the circle is unique, each point equidistant to the center. A circle simply cycles back on itself without making any progress.

On a psychological level, the circle in human life is the mindless cycle of habitual living, without any newness, growth, or evolution. So many struggle to create genuine change, going through the motions instead of growing through the motions. This is why the Hebrew word for habit is “hergel,” which also spells ha’regel, “the foot.” The foot is the part of the body furthest away from one’s head, which is the locus of thought, willpower, and decision-making. The feet walk automatically with no need for thought or contemplation. Hergel represents a lifestyle devoid of thought and newness. Fascinatingly, the root of “hergel” is “gal,” and “le’galgel” means to roll, another circular motion.


Mindless habit creates a lifestyle that leaves one shackled in a mental and spiritual cage. Every week is just about surviving from Shabbos to Shabbos. Every year, it’s the same holidays, the same experiences, the same birthdays, and the same ups and downs. Life becomes a giant circle, a cycle of minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, and years. Spirituality becomes ritual; religion becomes habit. Davening, saying berachos, and learning Torah become items on a checklist instead of an opportunity to connect to Hashem. This is the spiritual danger of circles, of cycles, of habit. This is a life without purpose, without passion, without an empowering why to all aspects of one’s life. When one lives a Jewish life without questioning, without taking ownership, and without seeking deeper meaning and purpose to all aspects of their lifestyle, they are doomed to live within the cage of circularity, where mindless habit replaces mindful transcendence.


Judaism: A Religion of Newness

Judaism is strongly connected to the concept of newness. Upon leaving Egypt as a newly formed nation, the first mitzvah the Jewish people received was the commandment to declare the new month, “Ha’chodesh ha’zeh lachem rosh chadashim – This month shall be for you as the head of months” (Shemos 12:2). Why is this the first mitzvah the Jewish people are given, right at the moment of their formation? This seems like a secondary concept, paling in comparison to mitzvos such as Shabbos, bris milah, and other such prominent mitzvos. What is unique about declaring the new month?

Upon leaving Egypt, the Jewish people experienced their birth as a nation. The Hebrew word for month, chodesh, also spells chadash, which means “new.” Just as the moon constantly changes, we are a people of newness and constant growth. This is why the Jewish people count by the lunar year, built from months. The Western world, in contrast, counts by the solar year, which is based on the earth’s yearly rotation around the sun. The Hebrew word for “year” is “shana,” which shares the same root as yashan, which means “old,” and comes from the same root as the word yashein, which means “sleeping.” It reflects the concept of repetition and mindless cycles, as the word sheini means to repeat or do something twice. The sun does not appear to change; it remains static. In a solar year, the months are merely a practical way of breaking down the year. In the lunar year, however, the months are the creative building blocks that come together to form the year. In essence, the Jewish system is built from twelve months of growth and evolution, not a single repeating year. However, to understand the true ideals of Judaism and reframe how we are meant to relate to circles, we must briefly delve into the nature of time.


The Nature of Time

The widely accepted understanding of time is that it moves in a straight line. Hashem created our world of space and time, and since its inception, time has been moving inexorably forward. Along this line of time is the past, present, and the future. If we were to move backward along this line, we could peer through history and find Avraham Avinu at the Akeidah, Moshe Rabbeinu receiving the Torah, and the Rambam writing the Mishneh Torah. Our current experience is taking place in the middle of the line, and if we could move forward along the line, we would see events that have not yet occurred. However, there is a major contradiction to this theory.

There is a piyut in the Pesach Haggadah (Sefer U’v’chen V’amartem) that describes how Avraham Avinu served matzah (unleavened bread) to the three malachim who visited him because it was Pesach at that time. Rashi (Bereishis 19:3) quotes this opinion and says that Lot served matzah to the malachim as well when they came to Sodom. How can this be? The mitzvah of matzah originates from the events of yetzias Mitzrayim, which would not occur for another two hundred years!

In order to understand why Avraham and Lot served their guests matzah before the miracles of Pesach occurred, we must develop a deeper understanding of time. Time does not move along a continuous, straight line; it circles around in a repeating yearly cycle. As the Ramchal explains, Hashem created thematic cycles of time, and each point in the year contains unique spiritual energy.

This deep understanding transforms our perception of time. We don’t celebrate freedom each year on 15 Nissan because that’s when the Jews were freed from Egypt; rather the Jews were redeemed from Egypt on 15 Nissan because that is z’man cheiruseinu, the time of freedom. This power of freedom allowed the Jews to escape the slavery of Mitzrayim, and this is why Avraham and Lot ate matzah long before yetzias Mitzrayim occurred. Matzah represents freedom, and Avraham and Lot tapped into the spiritual energy of freedom present at that point in time. Rather than commemorating a historical event, they were tapping into the deep energies of time already inherent at that point in the circle. So too, when we celebrate each holiday, we do not simply commemorate a historical event; we tap into and experience the deep energies inherent at that point in time. Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Succos, and all the chagim give us the opportunity to access unique spiritual energies in time.


Spirals in Time

However, even the circle analogy is limiting. If time were indeed a circle, each point of the year would simply be a repetition of that point from the previous year, from the previous lap around the circle. That would be pointless. We do not seek to re-experience the past each year. Our goal is to expand upon what we have created year after year, so that each time we return to that same point on the circle, we are on a fundamentally different level. Each Rosh Hashana must be higher than the previous one: each Pesach, a new Pesach; each Shavuos, a new Shavuos, etc. Through our growth and ascension, we convert the two-dimensional circle into a three-dimensional spiral, traversing along the same circle to ever greater heights. We maintain circularity while achieving ascension.

The same is true for all spiritual circles. The ideal is not to transcend the circular system but to uplift it, to transform the circle into a spiral, and to find deeper ways of creating newness within the circular system.


Bringing Chodesh into Shana

This is the connection between chodesh, the lunar year, and shana, the solar year. If time is meant to be a spiral, there is an apparent tension between these two themes: The Jewish system of time is rooted in chodesh (newness), and seemingly opposed to shana, the circular system of solar years. However, we have already shown that Judaism does not oppose circles, but instead proposes to transform them into spirals. Therefore, we must further develop our understanding of shana.

In truth, our goal is not to transcend the realm of shana but to transform it into an experience of chodesh within the realm of shana. As such, we build months within the year, infuse newness within the habitual, and form spirals within the circular frameworks. We do not separate the months out of the year; we use the months to uplift the year. The physical template of shana is infused with the innovation and creativity of chodesh. This is beautifully manifest within the word shana itself.

Shana means that which is cyclical and repetitive, representing mindless ritual. However, shana also has another distinct meaning: to learn and to change (shinui, l’shanos). This is because when you add chiddush to shana, i.e., when you infuse newness into the circle, you create spiraling growth. This is why deliberate, effective repetition is the key to genuine growth.

Chazarah is usually defined as “review.” As such, when people review what they learned, many simply read it over, mindlessly repeating what they already know and what they have already understood. But true chazarah, true repetition, is the process of learning old material on a completely new level, achieving elevated levels of clarity and gaining new insights. True chazarah requires bringing everything you have learned since last studying this material into your experience of reviewing it. This is why the Gemara (Chagigah 9b) says that learning something one hundred times cannot be compared to learning it one hundred and one times. Every time you review something, it should be a revolutionary experience of discovery and innovation. We don’t repeat, we expand; we don’t circle, we spiral.

The same is true of all experiences within time. Every day is a new day, every moment a new moment. The external templates and vessels – the surface layer of our lives – may seem repetitive, but we can create newness within each action and within each moment. We might daven the same tefillah every day, but as the Nefesh HaChaim explains, every tefillah should be a completely new experience. We may have the same spouse and family for our whole lives, but every day is a new opportunity to deepen our connection and to further build our relationships. We do not pass over time, reactively experiencing life; we actively ride the waves of time, creating spirals from the circles, infusing chadash within the shana.

In our next article, we will delve deeper into this fascinating topic, especially as it relates to music. In the meantime, may we all be inspired to continue to embark on the journey of becoming our ultimate selves!

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Rabbi Shmuel Reichman is the author of the bestselling book, “The Journey to Your Ultimate Self,” which serves as an inspiring gateway into deeper Jewish thought. He is an educator and speaker who has lectured internationally on topics of Torah thought, Jewish medical ethics, psychology, and leadership. He is also the founder and CEO of Self-Mastery Academy, the transformative online self-development course based on the principles of high-performance psychology and Torah. After obtaining his BA from Yeshiva University, he received Semicha from Yeshiva University’s RIETS, a master’s degree in education from Azrieli Graduate School, and a master’s degree in Jewish Thought from Bernard Revel Graduate School. He then spent a year studying at Harvard as an Ivy Plus Scholar. He currently lives in Chicago with his wife and son where he is pursuing a PhD at the University of Chicago. To invite Rabbi Reichman to speak in your community or to enjoy more of his deep and inspiring content, visit his website: