Tishrei: A Spiritual Blueprint for the Year

It's not easy to give over the essence of a whole month. Its message lies in the events which take place that month, as well as in the time itself. The events of the Jewish month of Tishrei (roughly corresponding to Sept_Oct) are what we like to call the "high holy days." Which makes perfect sense, because these days are, in a spiritual sense, very high. Starting with Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, and working our way through Yom Kippur (the day of Attonement) and Sucot and Simchat Torah, these are the days which set the pace and tone for the whole year. If we do it right during Tishrei, chances are that we'll get the whole year right. So it's a good idea to know what the spiritual blueprint is before we get started

It starts with something which the Cabala calls the nesira, which literally means the "sawing off." With the advent of the new year, the life force of the previous year , dissipates, and the enrgy which kept the entire universe in existence, is held in abeyance. If we do the proper inner work (tshuva) on ourselves, seeking to renew our relationship with the Creator, the life force will reappear on a higher level. It all depends upon our deeds and prayers on the day of Rosh Hashana. If we hear the blast of the Shofar, we can be sure that he has decided to renew His relationship with the world. Similarly, the person who strives for a higher level of enlightenment must divorce himself from his previous outlook, so that it won't disturb him from attaining his new level. Then, he must search deep inside for the essential point of connection with G_d, which yearns to come to fruition. But in the meantime, before attaining the new level, he will experience a temporary loss of orientation. The sages well understood this stage of spiritual growth, and they likened it to a wordless cry from a broken heart. The blast of the shofar signifies the emergence of that point of connection from a worldless yearning to a revealed primal scream. The call of the shofar does signify the renewal of G_d's relationship with the creation and with us, but it all starts with the nesira, with cutting ourselves off from the previous spiritual level.

Having reestablished a tenuous relationship with the Creator, we must begin to build upon it. We have ten days to work on this relationship. The sages of the Cabala and Chassidut tell us that we have ten faculties of the soul.:seven lower emotional faculties, and three higher intellectual. Each day of the ten days from Rosh Hashana to Yom Kippur adds another building block to the relationship, as we perfect and rectify the ten faculties, strengthening the connection between ourselves and the creator. The final block is put into place on Yom Kippur, the day of Attonement. Then, we perfect and add the faculty of chochma, or wisdom, the highest of the ten soul abilities. With chochma comes bitul, or self nullification, as we realize that as much as we strive and achieve, we are as nothing before G_d. Moses, the most humble of all men, came down from the mountain with the second tablets on this day, signifying total reconciliation between G_d and the Jewish people. So does this day, the tenth day of Tishrei always indicate acceptance and reconciliation. Therefore , we wear white and we don't eat and drink, because we are like angels in union with G_d on this day. The relationship has been cemented and put into place on Yom Kippur.

Something is still missing, though. A good relationship needs an appropriate environment in which o grow. It should be a protected environment in which the ten faculties of the soul, in relation to spirituality, can be developed and nourished. The environment is provided by the other two holidays of the month of Tishrei: Sucot and Simchat Torah. On Succot, we live in booths of wood and bamboo, or other vegetation, surrounded on all four sides and above by nature. We may have developed the proper ten soul faculties for understanding and feeling G_dliness, but if we don't place ourselves in the appropriate environment, the ten faculties will never begin to develop. So, the spiritual blueprint of the month (as prescribes by the Torah), calls for us to take four plant species and move them around in all six directions ( up, down, right, left, backwards, forwards), and them bring them close to our hearts. If possible we should do this while in the booth, which is called a Succah. In so doing, we are ingesting and imbibing the spirituality which is surrounding us in the Succah, and bringing it within us. All of this represents drawing from a transcendent, surrounding level of G_liness, and injecting it into the "bloodstream," to be felt and understood. Of course, the ingesting of all this spirituality leads to tremendous happiness, which is why the festival of Succot is called the "time of our happiness." The joy bursts outward on Simchat Torah, the final holiday of the month, when the tradition is to dance all day long with Torah scrolls. It's not a time for study and prayer, but rather a time to show that the new spiritual wellsprings which we have tapped this month have permeated us to the extent of motivating even the lowest parts of the body: the feet.

From Kabalah to Chassidut: From Metaphysics to Psychology

The intellectual history of the inner dimension of Torah has seen several phases: the Zohar, followed by Kaballah, followed by Chassidut. Each phase sees the same themes deepened and expressed in more meaningful ways. What Kabalah refers to as the nesirah, or sawing off and removing, is referred to in Chassidut as a three part process called hachna'ah (trauma), havdala (separation), and hamtaka (positive resolution).

It was the Baal shem Tov (founder of the Chassidic movement) who took Kaballastic concepts, and couched them in psychological terms, allowing us to understand directly from our own experience what the Kaballa expresses in metaphysical terms. We all go through crisis in our lifetimes: this is the nature of life before the arrival of Meshiach (the Jewish Messiach). A crisis can be made easier to manage if we understand it as a test from Above meant to raise us to a higher level. The first stage in crisis management is the most difficult, it's the realization that something we depended upon and needed is no longer available, no longer there for us. The pain, the loss can be inmense. This is the initial trauma, or hachna'ah (literally, crushing).afterwards comes a process of separation from the object, the person, the way of life which we have depended upon up until then. We grow to realize that we can get along without it. This is the second stage called havdala (separation). Finally we reach a stage of resolution in which we realize that the pain was necessary in order to bring us to a higher level of existence, either spiritual or otherwise, by what we have gone through. This is the stage of hamtaka, or positive resolution, in which we realize that everything was for the good.

If we look closely, we can see this happening during the month of Tishrei. There's the initial pain of parting with another year, with what has become familiar to us over a period of twelve months. This happens on Rosh Hashana, when we leave behind our familiar ways of the past, and go with trepidation towards the new year. Then follows a difficult period of separation with intense work on ourselves (tshuva) in order to understand what new level of spiritual maturity is expected of us. This brings us to Yom Kippur, when we are separated completely from the previous year by the process of tshuva, bringing us to the highest levels of our souls. Finally , the true "sweetening of the judgment" occurs during Succot and Simchat Torah, during which we celebrate our newfound unity with G_d.

Mystical Meditations

As with every month of the Hebrew calendar, the month of Tishrei corresponds with a tribe, a letter of the Hebrew alphabet, a kabalistic sephira, an organ, a sense, and other associations as described by the Book of Formation (Sefer Yetzirah) and other books.

A clue to the month is in its name. In Hebrew, the letters of Tishrei (Tuf, Shin, Resh, Yud), form the Hebrew alphabet backward, stating from the end, and culminating with the letter yud, which symbolizes G_d. in other words, we're climbing a spiritual ladder from the bottom to top this month, striving to reach G_d. the technique of climbing is called teshuva. Commonly translated as "repentance," it really means "return." Return to one's source, to where we come from. Regret over past bad deeds which we've committed, like a "bad" child who must go stand in the corner, is not what it's all about. That was during last month, during Elul, when the King (G_d) was in the field, handling our petitions and granting amnesty to all those who requested. This month, we're into higher things, like making sure that our soul is complete and rectified and properly attached to its source.

The letter of the month is the Hebrew letter lamed. The name of the letter gives us a hint as to the essence of the month. Lamed indicates both learning (lilmod), and teaching (lelamed). This month is all about establishing a relationship between what is Above and what is below (the creation). In this world, this is reflected in the teacher_student relationship. The teacher, like the Creator, is intellectually out of range of the student. He must seriously contract his knowledge, and even then, enclothe it in examples and parables that are foreign, in order to bring it down to the level of the student. Similarly, the Creator must seriously contract His infinite illumination in order to create and maintain the universe. And even then, He only hints at His true meaning by enclothing it in the garment of nature.

The sense of the month is that of intimate relations. The Midrash tells us that Adam and Eve were born as Siamese twins sharing a common back. The concept of nesira in the Kaballa refers to their surgical separation, enabling them to relate to each other face to face. We can be physically close to somebody, and yet far away. The purpose of the nesira was to separate Adam and Eve in order to allow them to come together again intimately. Just as the teacher gives and the student receives, so is there give and take on an intimate level between husband and wife. G_d wants us to emulate Him, and as He touches our lives intimately, so he wants us to strive for an intimate relationship with Him. The husband-wife relationship, just as the teacher_student, is a corollary of the relationship between G_d and HIs creation.

The tribe of the month is Ephraim. He was born to Joseph in Egypt. When Ephraim was born, Joseph said "G_d has made me fruitful in the land of my poverty" (Genesis 41:52). The name Ephraim comes from the root p'ru, which indicates fruitfulness and multiplying. He was the fruit of the intimate relationship between Joseph and his wife, Osnat.

The Kaballistic sephira, or G_dly emanation of the month, is yesod, meaning foundation. As the ninth of the ten spherot, it gathers all of the spiritual influx from above, and channels it to the tenth, feminine sephira of malchut, which has the function of creating. It's logical then, that the physical corollary of yesod is the sexual and reproductive organs, and we find that they are the organs associated with the month of Tishrei.

Tishrei strives to bring home to us the message of what Chassidut calls the mashpia-mekabel (supplier-receiver) relationship. The only way for G_d to relate to creation is from above to below, and He imbued the creation itself with this quality. We are constantly enacting this kind of relatedness, whether as teacher-student, as husband-wife, or as the rich giving to the poor. The month of Tishrei comes to renew and reinforce this relationship in its source, which is between ourselves and G_d.

Stories for the Succah

Translated from Chassidic stories by R' S.Y. Zevin

The Shpoler Zaide (grandfather from the town of Shpoli) was the spiritual counterpart of R' Nachman of Breslav. It was his custom to constantly examine the conduct of R' Nachman and issue criticism. Once, a local merchant praised R' Nachman in front of the Shpoler Zaide, saying that he was very wise, knowing geography very well, and had even done the merchant a very big favor by using his knowledge.

The Shpoiler Zaide answered him, "I don't think much of that. I also learnt as a youth to understand geography, but I never needed this knowledge, nor even to look at maps, because when I hold an esrog in my hands on Succos, I see on it all the places of the physical world. I am able to see what has been decreed on every place on the globe on Rosh Hashana, because the esrog represents the globe, and every nook and cranny of the esrog's skin indicates a particular geographical location. The pitom (upper stem) represents the north pole, and the oketz (lower stem) indicates the south pole, and the mitzvah is to hold the pitom upright, just as the geographers design their maps with the north on the top. The Jewish law tells us that the important portion of the esrog is the upper part, because that is where Israel and Jerusalem are located. Anyone who has eyes to see, can see what he needs to know for the entire year during the seven days of Succot on the esrog, and has no need whatsoever for a map."

Afterwards, the Shpoler Zaide said to the merchant, "When you go to R'Nachaman, tell him what I said , and then you can tell him in my name, that since I heard that he is planning on the traveling to the Holy Land this year, he should know that I saw nothing on my esrog about him entering Israel, and that therefore he shouldn't trouble himself to go there at this time."

The tzedaka (charity) work of R' Chaim of Tzanz was awesome, and amazed all those who observed him. Even at times when his own house was lacking, he managed to give generously to poor people in the thousands and tens of thousands . he would get specially involved in this the day before Succot, since in states in the Kitvei Ari z'l (the kabalistic writings of the holy Ari) that this is an important activity on this day. Whatever he had ready to give on this day, he gave, and he would endeavour to find loans, sometimes even with deposits, in order to give to he poor people of the town. Once on the day before Succot, one of his sons asked him, "Father, I've never seen it stated in the holy books that one must continue to give tzedaka even after all the money has been drained from the pockets." His father answered him, "I'm amazed at how a son of mine can be such a 'murderer' of his father. You see about your father that he has no Torah learning, no fear of G_d, and only one small good point he possesses, and even that you want to take away from him!"

There was once a simple Jew who was a helper by the Rebbe R' Shmuel of Lubavich. His name was R' Yosef Mordecai, and he had also once been a helper by the father of R' Shmuel, known as the Tzemach Tzedek. R' Yosef Mordecai once entered the Succah of the Rebbe full of anger, growling at somebody in the kitchen over the food they had cooked.

The Rebbe R' Shmuel said to him: "Yosef Mordecai! It's true that you are from a good family. Nevertheless, you must conduct yourself properly, and with due respect before the schach (the vegetation covering the Succah)!"

Why was R' Yosef Mordecai considered to have come from a good family? Because once the Rebbe the Tzemach Tzedek commanded him to sleep in the Succah. At the time, the Tzemach Tzedek had two Succas: one in the courtyard and the other in the house. It was very cold outside, and Yosef Mordecai reminded the Rebbe of this. The Tzemach Tzedek answered him, "Amalek [the archetypal enemy of the jewish people] is cold. Jews are warm! You go sleep in that Succah, and you'll merit long life." Therefore, he was referred to as coming from a good family.

R Yosef Mordecai lived to one hundred and three years old. When he was ninety eight years old, he danced on the roof of a local building like a young man.

Active Engagement versus Passive Appeasement

The Torah speaks of Yom Kippur in two different places. In both of them, it refers to the day as a Shabbat Shabbaton, or a Sabbath of Sabbaths. (From this, we learn that Yom Kippur supersedes the Sabbath. If the Day of Atonement falls out on a Sabbath, as it does this year, we fast and pray all day long as we would on any other Yom Kippur. This is not true of other fast days, which are 'pushed off,' or superseded by the Sabbath). However, in one place (Leviticus 16:30) the Torah refers to the holy day in a feminine gender ("she"), while in the other (Leviticus 23:3), the gender is masculine ("he"). What is the difference?

The difference is between the person who waits for life to come to him/her, or the one who goes out and makes life happen. Te entire month of Tishrei is given over to the pursuit of an intimate relationship with the Creator. On Rosh Hashana, all the necessities of life are meted out to us: how much money we'll make, whether we'll be healthy, whether we'll have children that year. If we passively accept whatever has been allotted to us, we will accept the day of Yom Kippur as it comes to us, without trying to improve our judgment. However , we can also pursue the inside track, trying through prayer and tshuva to improve upon what has been meted to us. Yom Kippur is the day which tells the difference.

The sages tell us that the day of Yom Kippur itself atones for us, even without our praying and asking for forgiveness. However, if we accept it only on that level, we are passively accepting what comes our way, and the King of Kings simply responds in kind. If we, on the other hand, actively pursue a more intimate relationship with Him, by searching inside of ourselves for the deepest possible connection, actively praying and requesting forgiveness, it becomes a different kind of Yom Kippur. He responds from a deeper level which can alter the judgememnt of Rosh Hashana, and bring us as well to a more intimate relationship with the King Himself

Adapted from Likutei Torah, R' Shneur Zalman of Liadi

"He who hasn't seen Simchat Beit Hashoeva doesn't know what happiness is" (Succah 51)

On the verse (Leviticus, 23:36): "Seven days bring your offerings and he eight day will be holy for you: bring an offering t G_d since it's a day of gathering and waiting, do not work."

Rashi, from the Midrash brings the following explanation: "I gathered and kept you here like a king who invited his sons to a meal for a certain amount of days. When the time to depart arrived, the King said: ' My son, please stay with me one more day. Your departure is very difficult for me."

Even though it's a mitzvah to be happy on all the Jewish holidays , there was an extra amount of happiness in the Temple during Succot. On the eve of the holiday they would prepare a place for the women upstairs and for the men downstairs so that they would not mix. And from the night after the first day onward, they began festivities. And so on every day of the holiday they would celebrate from the beginning of the evening throughout the night. And what was the nature of this celebration? The flute would play, as the violin and harp and everyone would play on whatever type of instrument they knew. Whoever knew how to sing would sing. And they would dance and clap hands and beat on surfaces and grow wild and crow, each person as he knew how, while singing praises and hymns. It is a mitzvah to maximize this happiness. And it wasn't the ignorant and just anyone who wanted who were allowed to participate in this happiness, but the great sages and learned people, roshei yeshivot and Hasidim, elders and leaders of the congregation who came to dance and clap, play instruments, and make merry in the Holy Temple during the days of Succot. But the entire nation, men and women, would come to watch.(Rambam, Hilchot Lulav 8: 12_14)

"On the eight day it shall be a time of gathering and absorption for you." This day of Shmini Atzeret, Simchat Torah achieves the ultimate purpose on the entire holiday of Succot. Just like regarding Passover, it is stated that for six days we should eat matzah, and the seventh should be a day of gathering and absorption. Because after the first day of leaving Egypt, it was still a time of struggle until the seventh day when we actually crossed the Red Sea and left the land, attaining complete redemption. Likewise after Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur we have ridden ourselves of the evil inclination, but it's still chasing after us. It is to this that the Succah and Luluav alludes when the Torah states that we should dwell in a Succah, "because I put the Jewish people in Succahs" (when they left Egypt). Meaning that He elevated the Jews above nature in order to prevent them from further engagement with the evil inclination. The lulav is a tool of war, while the Succah represents protection. And the eight day of the holiday ( Shimini Atzeret, Simchat Torah) is a day of rest. Whatever was achieved spiritually during the days of Succot now becomes absorbed and internalzed on the day of Shmini Atzeret and Simchat Torah. (Sfas Emes)