The Maharal, in the introduction to his commentary on Pirkei
Avoth, Derech Chaim, develops the concept of man's need to strive
for perfection in three distinct areas. Man must be perfect in
relation to his Creator. He must be also be perfect in relation
to himself and his potential. And he must be perfect in relation
to his fellow man. The annual progression from Rosh HaShana to
Yom Kippur to Sukkot, and the unique spiritual challenge of each
of these three Yamim Tovim, focuses on these goals.
The Midrash (Vayikra Rabbah 29:3) teaches us that the Shofar
is able to accomplish an almost magical task of enticing G-d to
stand up from the throne of Strict Justice and move to the throne
of Mercy. How is this accomplished?
We are taught (T.B. Rosh HaShana 33b) that the sound of the
Shofar has the broken Tru'ah, surrounded by the smooth sound of
Tki'ah before it and after it. The broken, disconnected sounds of
the Tru'ah are representative of the many daily activities we
involve ourselves in, activities which are frequently fragmented,
lacking any underlying "unifying principles." Our improper
actions can usually be traced to this fragmentation. When we
have clarity on the principles that should govern our behaviour,
when we know "how it all fits together," the quality of that
behaviour improves significantly.
Surrounding the fragmented Tru'ah with the smooth, unified
Tki'ah awakens us to the need for unifying principles. G-d can
then look beyond our individual actions, many of which may be
improper, to the overall picture, which finds us committed to
serving Him and His goals as Creator of the world. The ability
to unify elements that appear to be fragmented is the source of
the Shofar's special power.
Proclaiming G-d as the King, praying for the united
recognition of G-d as the Creator of the world, committing
ourselves to faithfully implementing our mission in the world,
are all things we include in our prayers on Rosh HaShana. As G-d
is One, our ability to live a life of integrity, built on
unifying principles is what perfects our relationship with Him.
This is our goal for Rosh HaShana.
When we come to Yom Kippur, two questions need to be asked.
First, the word Teshuva implies "a return." To where are we
returning? Secondly, how do we stand before G-d each year in
repentance, asking him to forgive us, promising to change, while
praising Him that He "forgives our sins year after year." It is
as if we are telling him that we know we will be back next year
with more sins!
Beyond the commitment to rectify individual actions, Teshuva
is the return to - reconnecting with - the Divine element that
resides in each of us. This unique central point is the source
of our individuality with which G-d endowed us, and should serve
as the motivating force of our activities. This core of our being
is the totality of ones unique resources and talents, and it is
on this basis that each person is given his or her unique mission
in this world. It is in the nature of our material existence
that we lose touch with this center, allowing our actions to be
motivated by physical drives, insecurities and social pressures
that are detached from the essence of our own existence. The
actions that emanate from sources detached from our Divine center
are sinful. Identifying our true essence, which is the activity
of the Ten Days of Repentance, and returning to it on Yom Kippur,
is the secret of pure atonement to which we aspire each year.
The goal of Yom Kippur is the perfection of our relationship with
our true selves.
In the commandments of Sukkoth, the Torah writes "V'hatyita Ach Sameach", "And you should be only in happiness." What is the
source of this special happiness which seems to go beyond that of
After reconnecting with our inner essence on Yom Kippur,
elevating ourselves closer to the Divine world, we are worthy
hosts to "invite" G-d down to our world, so to speak. But for G-d
to accept this "invitation" requires both a dwelling place and a
community that are worthy of hosting Him.
The temporary and austere nature of the Sukka reflects a
deep understanding of the true nature of material possessions and
our physical existence. It is in this kind of environment,
symbolizing an existence built on spiritual values and
nourishment, that is an appropriate dwelling place for the Divine
presence to "visit."
The Midrash (Vayikra Rabba 30:12) teaches us that the four
species that we take on Sukkot inclusively represent every kind
of Jew. The Etrog has a good taste and good smell, representing
the Jew filled with both Torah knowledge and good deeds. The
Lulav (from the date palm) has a good taste but no smell,
representing the Jew filled with Torah knowledge but who lacks
good deeds. The Hadas has a good smell but no taste,
representing the Jew who is filled with good deeds but lacks
Torah knowledge. And the Arava has no taste or smell,
representing the Jew who lacks both Torah knowledge and good
deeds. The Mitzva is to unite all four of the species,
concretizing the inseparable unity of every member of the Jewish
people. In their competitive drive, people tend to highlight the
deficiencies of others, validating themselves by invalidating
others. The Torah teaches us to focus on the fact that every
person has some special trait that we lack. Only by calling on
everyone's strengths can the whole be greater than the sum of its
parts. This is the special unity that the Jewish Nation strives
for, enabling us to accomplish our special mission as G-d's
representatives in the world.
In the Kabbala, water is the symbol of abundance. On
Sukkot, water plays a special role in the Temple service,
symbolizing the abundance of resources G-d places at our
disposal. These resources are not provided for the individual's
self-gratification, but are given to us as opportunities to serve
G-d. The recognition of resources as opportunities for service
diminishes interpersonal strife caused by destructive
competition. This unity among Jews is the source of the special
simcha, the joy, associated with Sukkot. It is in such a society
that G-d can "feel at home."
What tremendous potential resides in the challenges of the
month of Tishrei! On Rosh HaShana we perfect our relationship
with G-d. On Yom Kippur we perfect our relationship with
ourselves. Success in these individual endeavors leads us to the
joy of Sukkot, where the entire nation joins in a unity of
purpose through the perfection of our relationship with those
The class is taught by Rabbi Shaya Karlinsky,
Dean of Darche Noam Institutions, Yeshivat
Darche Noam/Shapell's and Midreshet Rachel for Women.