BBBBB 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 other Holidays?
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 around us.