1 Tishrei 5761
From the Desk of: Rabbi Jeremy Kagan
When David HaMelech declares in Tehillim, “HaShem is my light and my salvation,” the Midrash says that he is referring to Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur (Vayikra Rabbah 21:4). This midrash must be understood within the context of the tshuvah we are attempting to achieve throughout the month of Tishrei. HaShem is a light on Rosh HaShanah because His revelation of malchus on that day allows us to see the singular significance of achieving relationship with HaShem, and to recognize clearly that all other agendas merely detract from this true purpose. Though on Rosh HaShanah we establish the resolve to focus exclusively on serving HaShem in the future, it is only on Yom Kippur that we gain salvation from the inertial past which holds us back from pursuing that goal. HaShem is our salvation on Yom Kippur because He raises us to a level from which we can decisively abandon the past. That level is gained not by merely separating from all physical involvement, but by leaving our bodies behind completely (Maharal, Drush Al Shabbos Tshuvah). The prohibition against wearing leather shoes hints at this idea, for the shoe fits the body like the body fits the soul (Ruach Chayim). We become angels on Yom Kippur, refraining from eating less because it is forbidden than because physical desires seem uninteresting, petty, and irrelevant.
On Yom Kippur the Satan himself testifies that we are free from sin (Pirkei D’Rebbi Eliezer 46). This is perfection, but it is not a human perfection. Man was created to join the spiritual realm to the physical world, so we must return to our bodies. But at the same time we must also retain the clarity and directedness we achieved during the Yamim Noraim. To do this we build a succah, in which we can live a full, physical life, but one in which the succah’s porous roof reminds us that what protection we have from the world does not come from the wood or cement of our homes but from HaShem’s watchful hashgachah. This applies the lofty insights of Yom Kippur to life, giving completion to the Yamim Noraim. But it is only achieved by constructing our own idealized little world in the succah.
When HaShem creates us He gives us the gift of a connection with Him, but we break it through transgression (See Pachad Yitzchak Yom Kippur 1:5). Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur give us the opportunity to repent our sins and recover it. Succos follows to teach us that in order to do that it is not sufficient to merely rebuild the relationship, rather we must rebuild the entire world in which that relationship takes place.
That we destroy our world when we break our relationship with HaShem is best illustrated by our experience in Gan Eden. Adam and Chaveh lived in a world of unadulterated tov, where every element of creation existed as an instrument for connecting to HaShem (See Rav Dessler vol. II p. 138). When they ate from the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil, they mixed ra into themselves and therefore into the entire world. From then on, they tasted ra in every fruit they ate. The word ra is used as a verb in Tehillim-troem-to mean break or shatter (Tehillim 2:9). The basis of all ra is that it is broken off-broken off from HaShem. When we say that Adam brought ra into the world what we mean is that he made of the world a place separate and broken off from HaShem.
Rebbi Yehudah holds that the fruit eaten by Adam was wheat, because the eating of wheat marks the point in a child’s development when he can cry out to his parents (Sanhedrin 70b). Prior to eating wheat, the child nurses from his mother and all sustenance is derived from her. The child is so bound to his mother that he cannot identify himself as separate from her. He may cry out in hunger, but he will not cry for his mother because he does not realize she exists separate from him. Reaching a level of physical maturity whereby the child can eat something other than his mother’s milk corresponds with the development of a level of ego, an awareness of self separate from his parents. It is at that time that the child can call his mother, for he has realized that he is not an extension of her.
Rebbi Yehudah identified Adam’s fruit as wheat because eating from the tree of knowledge affected Adam the way wheat affects a child. Prior to Adam’s sin he understood himself to be only an extension of HaShem, a conduit for His malchus in the world. He saw the world from HaShem’s perspective, where everything was a means for man’s relationship to HaShem. Eating from the tree of knowledge gave Adam an ego, an awareness of self separate from HaShem (See Gur Arieh Breishis 1:11). But Adam was not the only thing which changed. Suddenly the world was transformed into a place for him instead of a place for HaShem. Prior to Adam’s eating, he saw everything in the world as either true or false-it either led towards HaShem and had true existence, or it led away and was a false phantom of reality (Moreh Nevuchim 1:2). After the fruit everything was suddenly judged from man’s personal perspective; it was either good for man or bad for man-thus it was called the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil. Through eating the fruit Adam came to identify himself as separate from HaShem, and in the process transformed the entire world, destroying it as a perfect instrument for connection with HaShem. Just as we destroy ourselves through sin, we also destroy our world (See Rashi Breishis 1:11). As the Mesilas Yesharim says: “If man is drawn after the world and distances himself from his Creator behold he is corrupted and the world is corrupted with him.”
If man is to repent, it is not enought that he himself becomes renewed. He must also make for himself a new world. For a human being exists only in relation to his surroundings. And even a renewed person, if he continues to occupy a broken world, will become broken once again.
How do we recover from such a disaster? When the Torah was given, the Jewish People were brought back to the level of Adam before the sin (Shabbos 146a). At Sinai HaShem showed Himself the creator of every aspect and level of being, the Torah revealed how all of creation existed to express the glory of HaShem (Dvarim 4:35). The world was repaired. But this example does not help us because it came as a gift from HaShem and was beyond our control. It does not teach us how to repent from the consequences of our transgressions. Our recovery from the sin of the golden calf provides a more informative example.
After Sinai brought us back to the level of Gan Eden the sin of the golden calf quickly returned the creation to the state it reached through the eating of the fruit-it reintroduced the separation of the world from HaShem. We had once again destroyed the world as a perfect instrument for directly relating to HaShem. We repented from the sin of the golden calf by building the Mishkan. The Mishkan was a miniature model of reality-every element of creation was represented in it (Nefesh HaChayim 1:4). Within the microcosm of the Mishkan we regained the ability to see everything as a means for coming close to HaShem. It was a reconstruction of the world, necessitated by our destruction of the world that had been given to us. The need to build the Mishkan to atone for the golden calf demonstrated the necessity of recreating our world to complete an act of repentance. Similarly, every year when we build our succah after Yom Kippur we are reconstructing our world after transgression has destroyed our original version. We carefully tailor our succah to foster awareness of the Shechinah-the term succah is from sachah which means to see with divine inspiration (See Rashi Breishis 11:29). It is our private Mishkan.
The need to rebuild the world after transgression is born out in the historical experience of the Jewish People. When we first emerged as a nation we were close to HaShem; through direct prophecy He revealed the nature of our relationship with Him and how we were to understand reality. When we turned away and made ourselves distant, the First Temple, which objectified our intimate connection to HaShem, was destroyed, and soon after we lost all experience of prophecy (Seder Olam 30). The Second Temple provided the foundation upon which a new form of relationship with HaShem was formed-one without prophecy or Shechinah, but instead centered upon the strivings of the chachamim in the Oral Torah (Pirkei Heichalos). The Baalei Talmud are described as, “The people who strive in the darkness…” (Yeshiyah 9, cited in Tanchuma Noah 3) The Oral Torah from the time of the Second Temple has been a Torah without prophecy, where we strive to reconstruct our understanding of the world and our relationship with HaShem from the silent darkness. Because we destroyed the world as it was given to us by HaShem, the world described by the prophetic Written Torah, it became our responsibility to reconstruct our understanding of the world through our efforts in the Oral Torah (For a lengthy treatment of this topic see The Jewish Self).
The key to understanding Succos, and repentance in general, is to realize that recovering our relationship with HaShem after a fall requires us to enter a succah of our own construction. Before we turned away from HaShem, He gave us both relationship and a world through which we could relate. Through transgression we turn away from that relationship. That turning away inevitably causes us to define the world in relation to ourselves rather than as a medium for connecting to HaShem. Recovering relationship requires us to reconstruct the world as an environment which allows for that relationship. We live in a world today which is a broken vessel for seeing HaShem; His presence is profoundly hidden from us. It is we, through our own actions and choices, who have created this world. Similarly, the tikun lies with us. We must reconstruct our world, reunderstand it element by element, word by word, through the guidance of the Torah. If we wait for HaShem to peek out at us from behind a bush, we will wait a very long time. It is our responsibility to create an understanding of the bush which makes it a potential vehicle for revealing HaShem. From the example of building our succah we can learn to rebuild our world.
Have a good Yom Tov!
Rabbi Jeremy Kagan