Growing Through the Holidays: Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur and Sukkos
This is the blessing Moshe, the Man of God, blessed the Children of
Israel before his death. (Devarim 33:1)
What’s new? It’s a simple question that asked at this time of year takes on
added meaning. Even in the gentile world, a new year represents potential
for positive change, and many people make resolutions to that effect. That
is certainly a major part of the Aseres Yemai Teshuvah, and Succos that
follows, as well.
Rosh Hashanah is a teacher. If taken seriously and the opportunity is used
meaningfully, then it usually allows us to reach new heights of awareness
and spiritual consciousness. It has the ability to reflect ourselves back to
us, like a spiritual mirror, allowing us to better understand where we go
wrong, and what we have to do to go right.
Yom Kippur, on the other hand, is about integration. It is about taking the
self-knowledge gained on Rosh Hashanah and pushing it from the level of the
mind to the level of the heart. Hence, Yom Kippur is the level of
binah—understanding—something associated with the heart.
Thus, though physically the brain is higher on the body than the heart,
spiritually, having a knowing heart is a higher level of living than having
only a knowing mind. It makes reaching for new spiritual heights a labor of
love, and not just the right thing to do.
Succos is the time when we activate our new knowledge. It is the transition
between the world to which we ascended on Rosh Hashanah and the one to which
we must return after the holiday. For 22 days we spiritually streamlined,
pushing the overbearing world of everyday life aside so that we could
realign ourselves with truth, the Ultimate Truth, with God Himself.
To return to the everyday world is to be bombarded with a contrary message.
In our generation, more than any other before it, nature has greatly
intruded into our daily consciousness via all the technology we have created
and mastered. For centuries science has been demystifying life, becoming
like a religion in its own right along the way, and recent technology has
greatly accelerated its pace.
In truth, the process started a lot earlier. In fact, when Adam ate from the
Tree of Knowledge against the will of God, he distanced himself from his
Creator. Kabbalah explains that this did not mean that God stopped doing
things for him, but rather, that God introduced additional angels into the
system to do them on His behalf.
The impact was dramatic, and remains so. Whereas once it was clear that
everything was from God, since then we get the impression that God is not
involved in making every last aspect of Creation and life work. This causes
many to empower nature, even when, in principle, they still believe in God.
They end up talking out of two sides of their mouths, so-to-speak, giving
God credit for everything, while often acting as if He’s involved in just
It’s not like in a large business that has many employees, many of whom
represent management. They are bosses who make things happen, and who have
the power to make decisions that the average employee cannot, at least when
it comes to that which affects the welfare of the company.
Rarely, however, does the average employee forget for a moment that above
all of his bosses is just one, the CEO of the company with whom the buck
stops, because ultimately, it is his buck. No matter how much power his
managers try to exercise over those lower down on the totem pole of power,
no one ever confuses any of them for the real boss.
It is not so easy to be that clear about God in everyday life. To be sure,
He is the CEO of all of Creation, but since nature’s presence is so
pronounced, and His is so hidden, it is not uncommon for ‘employees’ to
confuse the ‘manager’ with the ‘CEO,’ at least in everyday practice.
The solution to this problem is in the first two words of this week’s
parshah, Zos HaBrochah. On a Pshat level, they simply allude to the
blessings Moshe Rabbeinu imparted to the Jewish people prior to his death.
On a deeper level, however, they indicate to us what we have to focus on
constantly to see God as He ought to be seen, in spite of all the veils and
Regarding these first two words of the parshah, it says:
V’zos HaBrochah has the gematria of “this is the Torah,” because in the
merit of Torah he blessed them. (Ba’al HaTurim, Devarim 33:1)
What does the Ba’al HaTurim mean, besides the obvious? Every child who has
ever gone to Cheder has been told that the Torah is source of all of our
blessing. That is what they were trained to believe, from the beginning,
with the hope that someday, when they would be older, they would really
believe it. The survival of the Jewish people depends upon this.
For children, who are all play and no work, it is a tough sell. They prefer
a life without mitzvos, not one encumbered by 613 of them. They love
adventure stories, not technical details about how best to serve God. For
children, the best we can hope for is successful indoctrination, and only
pray that by the time they become adults, they will be able to
self-indoctrinate themselves with the same message and mean it.
However, there is a big difference between being told what to believe by
another person and being told the same thing by yourself. Even when we con
ourselves into doing something, it is usually for our own benefit, something
that we don’t always believe about another who tries to tell us what to think.
Unless, of course, he is not just A man of God, but an Ish Elokim —THE “Man
of God.” Those are the two words that change everything because they mean
that the message is definitely for our own good, even though someone else is
teaching. Though the average teacher merely indoctrinates, hopefully for the
good of the student, and the person himself indoctrinates himself, hopefully
for the right reasons, a Man of God teaches only truth, one that is always
and completely good for the student.
These two words are the threshold between two worlds, one that leads nowhere
meaningful, and one that leads to the ultimate pleasures of Creation. They
unlock the blessing in life because they unlock our hearts and skepticism
about Torah from Sinai, and all that it comes to help us to achieve. To
believe in Moshe as a teacher of truth is to be open to the eternal life
that is embodied in the Torah that he taught us.
Thus, when we dance with eternal joy on Simchas Torah with a Sefer Torah, we
dance with Moshe Rabbeinu as well, each and every one of us who relates to
the blessing of Torah. We connect our hearts to his heart, our minds to his
mind, and through him we feel the reality of Torah like we never have
before. It changes us, and greatly increases our spiritual capacity.
It changes our vision as well. We see things differently, as if angels have
been removed from the long chain of command between us and God, so that we
can more readily see His hand in everything, and behind everything, making
all of it work, and giving all of it life.
This process starts on Rosh Hashanah, opening our minds to the truth of God
and His Torah. It reaches a crescendo on Yom Kippur as it enters our heart
and elevates us to the level of the angels. With Succos, we have a chance to
experience this higher level in ‘everyday life,’ but it is on Simchas Torah
that we celebrate the awareness, and the blessing of having it. Zos HaBrochah.
This way, when we start the Torah again with Parashas Bereishis, we don’t
just begin another cycle of weekly Torah readings. We enter the realm of
Torah on a whole different level of awareness, on a whole different level of
blessing, and like an eager guide, the Torah motions for us to follow it to
even higher levels of knowledge, understanding, and appreciation.
This is the real new, the true good, the essential blessing of life. It is
also what the Man of God, Moshe Rabbeinu, gave to us before moving on to the