My recent article in Ynet: “Today Is A Holiday: The Journal Of A Spiritual Journey”
What is the reason for all the customs that we so consistently perform – Eating the traditional fish that a mother cooks for Rosh HaShanah, fasting on Yom Kippur, and hanging decorations in a Sukkah? Rav Laitman explains the holidays of Tishrei according to the wisdom of Kabbalah, and reveals how we change our lives for the better with their help.
It is customary to think that the holidays mark historical events, victory in war, the birth or death of a special person. According to the wisdom of Kabbalah, the holidays of Israel are essentially different from the holidays of other peoples, and they describe stations on the way in the spiritual development of every person.
The Israeli holidays and their customs were introduced by the great Kabbalists thousands of years ago. The Kabbalists are people like us, who through studying the wisdom of Kabbalah succeeded in reaching a life of love for others and through that to love of the Creator—the general force of love that exists in reality. They discovered that there is one single purpose for this upper force: to lead us to be connected, happy, and full of love like Him while we are still alive. This force has been granted many nicknames: Creator, Light, Nature, Love and even King, like it is customary to call Him during the Ten Days of Repentance: “We have no king but you” (Ta’anit 25b).
To describe the stations through which the King passes us on the way to His magical kingdom, to become familiar with Him and to discover all the good that He has prepared for us, the Kabbalists established the Hebrew calendar and the cycle of holidays and festivals in it. So a moment before we dip an apple in honey and hang decorations in a Sukkah, let’s stop and clarify once and for all, why we bother so much every year and how we derive from these customs something better for all of us.
The First Station: Rosh HaShanah
“Rosh (head) is regarded a root ….According to the root and the Rosh that a person establishes for himself at first, so he continues his life” (The Writings of Rabash, “Letter 29”).
The first station in the spiritual journey of the person is Rosh HaShanah — “The beginning of the creation of the person” (The Writings of Rabash, “Dargot HaSulam” 882). In this stage, the person is like a newborn. He looks at the good and bad that he has gone through his whole life and asks himself: What is all of this for? Why am I alive year after year? Who is managing this reality and what is the purpose of existence?
If he is lucky, these questions don’t let him go and they lead him toward the goal, toward the significant and final station of the journey: the discovery of the network of harmonious connection between people within which he will feel the positive power of connection in its full intensity—the Upper Force that manages his life.
The first Rosh HaShanah was “celebrated” for the first time 5,777 years ago when a human being asked similar questions. The name of that person was Adam. Like a child who wants to grow up and be like his parents, so do we need to be like the force that created us and wants to be discovered. This entire desire will provide us with the power to rise above our limited egoistic nature, above the private concern for ourselves, and become “children of Adam.”
The Kabbalists call the longing to know why we are alive by the name, “the point in the heart.” The “heart” represents the totality of the egoistic desires of the person that continue to grow, beginning from the most basic desires – for sex, for nourishment, and for family, through the more developed desires – for money, for respect, and for knowledge. The point in the heart is the most developed spiritual desire in a person on the ladder of desires. And when it is awakened, it breathes into a person the spirit of life and a new desire for self-realization. This desire is not satisfied by money, respect, or knowledge, but only through realizing the purpose of life. And when for the first time the change is felt within a person, he celebrates Rosh HaShanah.
From Rosh HaShanah and on, the person increases the pace of his journey. Equipped with new powers, he struggles to reach a true point of connection with others and realize the point that is burning in his heart. But hope is one thing and reality is another thing. Instead of oneness, he discovers a big separation, the most terrible judgment of all. “The day of judgment was established in Tishrei, since those are days of desire. And that desire awakens upon us at that time each and every year, and it is necessary to waken to complete repentance more and more than during the whole year. And the essence of repentance is to unite with each and every one with love and with one heart” “Meor veShemesh”). This discovery leads the person to the next station on the journey, Yom Kippur.
The Second Station: Yom Kippur
“We see the truth through Rosh HaShanah, then one can ask for atonement. So Yom Kippur is after Rosh HaShanah” (The Writings of Rabash, “Dargot HaSulam” 891)
In The Book of Zohar it is written, “’…as far as light excelleth darkness’ (Ecclesiastes 2:13), for the benefit of light doesn’t come except from darkness.” There is no light without darkness, there is no sweet without bitter, and there is no good without evil. To reach the good, we must also discover the evil. According to the wisdom of Kabbalah, Yom Kippur is the recognition that our egoistic nature is evil from its youth. But it is specifically this recognition that makes it possible for us to attain the good. If on Rosh HaShanah the desire to connect with others is awakened in us, everything good is produced through connection with them. So during the Ten Days of Repentance we are gradually introduced to the negative egoistic force that prevents us from attaining unity. After all, on Yom Kippur there is no place to hide the rift and mutual hatred that divides us. So it becomes possible already to ask for correction of our evil inclination, which is good.
“Israel had no holidays like the fifteenth of Av and like Yom Kippur” (Mishnah Ta’anit 4:8). Why? It is because this was a special day of introspection and deep soul-searching. A day of remorse in which it was customary to ask forgiveness “For the sin that we did in your presence through the evil inclination” (Yom Kippur prayer).
The wisdom of Kabbalah explains that “forgiveness” is not just an oral request, “We have been guilty, we betrayed, we robbed….”; rather, it is a stage in which the person becomes conscious of his true state —how far he is from the right connection with others, and as a result of this, from a connection with the good force that manages his life. This difficult revelation actually makes the person happy because as a result, a cry breaks out from him for inner change. This particular request for forgiveness is expected from us, and when it comes, it is answered.
The Third and Fourth Stations: Sukkot and Simchat Torah
“…the festival of Sukkot explains all the questions, even the hardest and worst….” (The Writings of Rabash, “Letter 36”).
At the third station on the spiritual journey, called “Sukkot,” the response to the inner request arrives and we get a special positive force that transforms the evil in us to good. It is written in the Talmud: “leave your permanent abode and dwell in a temporary abode” (Sukkah 2a). The change that we must go through is to leave a permanent abode, meaning narcissism, to a new abode, to altruism. Then our picture of reality is changed. Our senses are apparently reversed. The brain and the heart change direction—from narcissism to altruism—and the picture of the whole of reality is revealed before our eyes. The person begins to get an answer to the request in his heart, and all of his desires that were opposed to connection enter the “Sukkah.”
The Sukkah symbolizes the complete form that every person will reach in the future. The laws of its construction symbolize the manner in which the person rises above his ego and acquires the ability to love and to give. So, for example, the Skhakh (thatch) in a Sukkah leaves more shade than light, as is written, “Its shade is more than its sun” (Mishnah Sukkah 2:2). This custom symbolizes an action in which the person “conceals,” restricts, the usage of his ego so he can go out of it toward the Light, toward connection and love.
Then he is ready for Simchat Torah—he develops the ability to read the texts of Kabbalah and summon upon himself the Upper Light, which is also called the Torah, to raise the connection between us to the head of the ladder of values, and changing his life for the better. This is because the Torah is the force that is prepared to correct hatred and separation between us and transform them into connection and love, which is a discovery that is called “Simchah” (happiness). Then the person senses within himself the entire vast expanse around him, and gains an eternal, whole, and happy life.
I hope, wish, and pray for a year of change, a year of building proper systems of relationships between us.
A good year to all the people of Israel!