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Yom Kippur & Sukkos

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 about nothing.

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 misinformation.

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 next world.


Text Copyright © 2013 by Rabbi Pinchas Winston and Torah.org.


 






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