A person begins the holidays when he is fed up with life, when he feels his life is going nowhere.
The month of Tishrei is very special. It is unique among the rest of the months in the sense that it succinctly depicts the entire process that humanity must undergo throughout its history. If we review the month of Tishrei, and specifically the holy days within it, we will have a good grip on the process we go through here in this world.
A person begins the holidays when he is fed up with life, when he feels his life is going nowhere. Time is passing but he is not doing anything of meaning with his life. He may have accumulated material possessions, hold a good job and have a high social status, but life still ends.
The reality of death makes us question the purpose of life. After all, if nothing lasts, then what is happening now is also pointless. If I keep my blinders on and continue to play around, what will become of me?
I can ignore it, keep playing, and be considered successful, but in truth, I am partying on the Titanic. What can we do? Is this really all we can look for—to live and die like animals? When we truly question our existence, this is the point where we discover the answer: There is indeed a different life.
Our lives are a procession, and the section we are in now is only a fraction of the whole of existence. And yet, this fraction is vitally important because from it we can move to the next part of life, while still in this life.
Rosh Hashanah (Beginning of the Year) tells us precisely about this transformation: Rosh (head) means beginning—a shift. It is the beginning of the year, the beginning of a new life.
How do we make this shift? First, we regret our previous life, which was even worse than an animal’s. Unlike animals, who have no freedom of choice or intellect, we have squandered ours. We use our intellect, freedom and uniqueness to deliberately decline to the level of animals, which makes us worse than them. Let’s think on the level available only to humans and see what we can discover from nature.
Our forefathers already discovered this secret. This is why they called themselves “Kabbalists” (receivers), since they received from the depth of nature its essence, plan, process, and most importantly, the goal we must achieve and for which we were created.
Thus, the Selichot (penitential prayers said in the period leading up to the High Holy Days) express the sorrow we feel for our beastly approach to life. Yet, the Selichot are also a great joy because they mark a turning point where we begin to want to rise to a new degree.
The step following the Selichot is called Rosh Hashanah, from the word shinui (change). This marks the beginning of a new life. This is when we decide that we want to be similar to the general force of nature, the fundamental force of giving and love which—because of its nature of bestowal—creates life and sustains it like a mother holding her child.
We need to discover this force because this is the only way we will know why we were made and how to eventually resemble it. In the same way that a child wants to resemble its parents and mimics them, we should try to make ourselves similar to the general force of nature.
We call this force “the Creator” or “nature,” since it has clear and absolute laws. We can reveal some of these laws through science, but others we can reveal only through the wisdom of Kabbalah. Kabbalist, Rav Yehuda Ashlag, succinctly described the sameness of nature and the Creator: “We can call the laws of God ‘nature’s Mitzvot(commandments),’ or vice-versa, for they are one and the same” (“The Peace”).
This universal law is the law of love because it cannot be otherwise. It is the force that creates and sustains all of nature, the force of love and the force of giving. But we, as its results, are in the force of reception.
It is like a mother and her baby. The baby wants only to receive from her, and she wants only to give to her baby. But in the end, our problem is that we want to remain babies and do not want to grow up.
Herein lies our problem: We must understand that we have much to lose because if we ascend to the level of nature and become like that mother, achieving the level of love and bestowal, we become as eternal and complete as nature. Moreover, when we raise ourselves above the material level, to the degree of the spirit, it does not affect us when our bodies may die because we will have already developed the spiritual level.
This is what Rosh Hashanah symbolizes: how we take upon ourselves the law of development and strive to resemble the Creator, the force of bestowal.
After this milestone, we begin to calculate exactly what we must do in order to resemble the Creator. At this point we discover that nature is entirely about giving—with 613 paths of bestowal—while our own nature is entirely concerned with receiving—in 613 paths of reception. Our task is to make our will as his will, by which we make our qualities similar to his. In other words, we become like him. To the extent that we are like the Creator we will acquire the force of love.
How do we achieve this? How can we change our nature into similarity with the Creator and have the force of bestowal instead of the force of reception? It is possible only through a force that we will receive from him. This force is called “Reforming Light.” The reforming light “shines” on us and changes us. It is symbolized by the light that comes in through the sechach (leaves that serve as the roof of the sukkah). When we sit in the sukkah, we metaphorically receive this light.
It isn’t necessary to carry out this reception specifically in a sukkah. Any effort to resemble the Creator in order for the change to happen in us is regarded as receiving the reforming light. The sukkah only symbolizes this process.
Subsequently, we turn our 613 desires to receive, the evil inclination, into desires to bestow, the good inclination. By this we achieve connection with the Creator through the reforming light. The reforming light is known to us by the term, “Torah,” as it is written, “I have created the evil inclination, I have created for it the Torah as a spice” (Masechet Kidushin).
Subsequently, on Simchat Torah (Rejoicing with the Torah), Israel (those striving for similarity with the Creator), the Torah (reforming light), and the Creator (the force of bestowal) become one.
By this we complete our transformation. This also concludes the month of Tishrei, which symbolizes the entire path from the great disillusionment with life, which prompted the Selichot, through the complete, eternal correction we receive on Simchat Torah.
Featured in The Jerusalem Post