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It came out of nowhere. A flood of emotions suddenly hit Shimon, and before he knew what was happening, there were tears streaming down his face. He immediately pulled over and tried to regain his composure. Strangely enough, he had no idea why he was crying. He sat there for a few minutes before it suddenly hit him, hard.

Five months ago, he had been engaged to a wonderful woman, Sarah. They had dated for a while and were excited to finally build a home based on their shared values and dreams. And then, out of nowhere, she broke the engagement. Shimon didn’t know why, and he was still heartbroken. At the moment that she broke it off, there was a song playing in the background; the very same song that was now playing in his car. The music brought back all the emotions, and he cried as he relived the worst day of his life. When he was able to calm down and continue his drive to work, he began to think about the power of music.



The Mystery of Music

There may be nothing more enchanting, mystical, and mysterious than the wonder of music. It has the ability to reach the very root of our soul. The right melody can transform our mood, bring us to tears of sadness or joy, and release emotions buried deep within our consciousness. Music unlocks the door to our heart, brings back our most closely-held memories, and allows us to feel and embrace our innermost yearnings for connection. From the artist’s perspective, music is the vulnerable expression of self; from the listener’s perspective, music is permission to connect to the Divine, the means by which to transcend the shackles of mundane existence, to experience something other-worldly. Many people have a favorite song, a personal gateway to spiritual transcendence. The Rambam states that had we not been gifted the Torah, we would have studied music in order to tap into spiritual truths. What is the secret behind the wonder of music?

If one breaks down and analyzes a musical piece, they would likely be surprised at its underlying simplicity. Almost every Jewish song, especially in Western music, follows the same two-step progression. The song begins with a low, steady build-up, progressively increasing in emotional intensity as it lays the foundation for what is to come. This build-up repeats itself, again rising in intensity, before bursting into the chorus, where the confined introduction expands into a full expression of emotion, where the soul erupts, unfiltered, guided by the stirring melody and words that perfectly capture the tune. The song then reverts to the lower introduction, and this process repeats itself (sometimes with a bridge) until the song’s conclusion. Thus, the structure of a song is essentially a circle: two low verses, two high, and repeat. One would expect music – one of the most spiritually uplifting experiences – to be more intricate and more novel than a simple circle.

At every Jewish simcha (celebration), we find ourselves dancing around in circles as we joyously sing in unison and share in the celebration.

The same is true on the holiday of Sukkos, where we walk in circles as we recite the hakafos; and on Simchas Torah, as we celebrate the completion of the Torah with joyous song, we repeat this circular process seven times over. What is the meaning of this practice?

This concept has deep spiritual roots, emanating from the very source of reality. The Gemara (Taanis 31a) states that in the future, Hashem will be in the center of a circle with tzaddikim dancing around Him, each one pointing toward Hashem as they circle around their Creator, again and again. To grasp the inner meaning of this strange description, let us explore the spiritual concept of circles.


Circles: Spiritual Death

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. It has no beginning and no end. A circle is a cycle that goes nowhere; it lacks evolution and generates no growth. No point on the circle is unique, with each point equidistant to the center. A circle simply cycles back on itself without making any progress.

This is the depth behind the Hebrew letter samech, which is shaped like a circle. Chazal highlight several episodes recorded in the Torah that conspicuously omit the letter samech, including Maaseh Bereishis (the story of creation), bikkurim (the first fruits), bechor (the firstborn), Menorah, and the berachos of Bechukosai. Each of these episodes embodies the principle of creation and newness. As such, the letter samech – representing spiritual death – is omitted, as this circular letter fundamentally contradicts the essence of newness.

(Maaseh Bereishis is the story of creation, the ultimate act of newness. Bikkurim is about the first fruits, a yearly renewal. The parasha of bechor discusses the first-born male child, clearly connected to this same theme of newness. While the connection to the Menorah may seem less obvious, Chazal link the Menorah to Torah She’baal Peh, which represents human contribution – creativity and newness – to the Torah. Torah She’bichsav was given to us by Hashem as a perfect, static text. Torah She’baal Peh, however, is a constantly developing work, requiring human creativity, thought, and innovation. (See chapter on Parashas Devarim for more on the concept of Torah She’baal Peh.) The berachos of Bechukosai are intrinsically tied to newness as well, as berachos represent the concept of Hashem manifesting newness and blessing into this world.)


A Cosmic Mask

The Creation of the world (Maaseh Bereishis) is a constant flow of newness. Hashem did not only create the world at the initial moment of conception; He continues to create it anew at every single instant. The Nefesh HaChaim explains the meaning of the phrase that we say in the berachos of krias Shema, “Ha’mechadesh b’tuvo b’chol yom tamid Maaseh Bereishis – Hashem creates the world anew every single day, constantly.” Just like a light bulb needs a constant flow of electricity to remain lit up, the world requires a constant flow of Hashem’s creative will to remain “lit up” with existence. When we say this phrase in krias Shema, we proclaim our recognition of this phenomenon, of the world’s complete and constant dependence on Hashem for existence. Another illustration might be helpful: Imagine you conceive of a person in your mind, giving him an entire backstory, clothes, a profession, a personality, and a family. If at any point you stop thinking about him, he ceases to exist, disappearing from your consciousness. Only when you willed him into being did he exist within you. The moment your focus shifted, the “flow of electricity” was cut off, and he ceased to exist.

Hashem not only willed the world into existence at one point in the past, but continues to do so every instant. The world, and everything within it, exists only because Hashem continuously wills us into existence. If He were to “stop” creating us, for even an instant, we would cease to exist. (The Nefesh HaChaim famously explains that learning Torah is the key to Hashem’s continuing to will us into existence. This was the impetus behind the famous practice in Rav Chaim’s yeshiva in Volozhin of having a twenty-four-hour cycle of talmud Torah to ensure that Torah was being learned at every single second of the day.)


Flawed Philosophical Theories

The flawed philosophical notion that counters this truth is called the Watchmaker Theory. Proponents of this theory posits that Hashem created the world and then left it to run automatically, on its own. Just as a watchmaker creates a watch and then it proceeds to run independently, they claim that Hashem did the same: Hashem’s act of creation was a one-time event, followed by the world’s continued independent existence. Accordingly, while the world may have begun with an act of creation, an act of newness, it has since run along an endless circle with no newness and no interaction or connection with Hashem.

The most extreme position, taken by philosophers such as Aristotle, is that the world was never created and has no newness whatsoever. Just like a circle has no beginning and no end, the world has no beginning and no end; it simply always was. This is the spiritual concept of teva, the Hebrew term for “nature.” The physical world appears to be independent and self-sufficient, with no need or role for a creator. While some modern scientific theories reject this notion, showing the need for something to have existed before the Big Bang, those steeped in Western, scientific thinking do not feel the need to look beyond the physical, to the Divine, for answers.

This is why the word “teva” is connected to the concept of a circle. The physical world and all the planets in our galaxy are round. Fascinatingly, all the Hebrew words that share a root with “teva” also share this connection to circularity. “Tabaat” is the Hebrew word for ring, a circular shape. “Matbei’a,” the Hebrew word for coin, reflects the circularity of currency. Money circulates from buyer to seller in an endless cycle.

The world is seemingly self-sufficient; one of the most basic scientific concepts is the law of conservation of energy and matter. All matter and energy circulate; they are transferred and transformed, but nothing is ever lost or gained – only recycled. Just think of the circular cycle of food: one eats food, digests it, lets it out as waste, uses that to produce more food, and then begins the process again. This is the circle of life, and many people become lost in it, never looking beyond it for a deeper root. Perhaps this is why the word “teva,” nature, shares a root with the word “tovei’a” – to drown. Drowning means becoming part of the medium, unable to escape its pull. (Yavan, the Hebrew name for the Greeks, means “quicksand”; the Greeks sought to “drown” us in their secular culture, replacing spirituality with atheism and hedonism. The very word “Yavan” conveys this idea. Yud is a small line, vav is a bit longer, and nun-sofis is an extended vav. This process represents the quicksand that pulls you in deeper and deeper into the physical world.) The challenge of teva is to escape the illusion of self-sufficiency, the pull of the physical cycle of life. This is the struggle of circles and cycles.

In our next article, we will delve deeper into this fascinating topic and try to understand the nature of circles on an even deeper level. 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: