Month of Tishrei
The month of Tishrei is the seventh of the twelve months of the Jewish calendar and the first month of the Jewish year. Changing the order of the letters permutes the word Tishrei to Reishit, which means "beginning". This month begins a new cycle of Divine service and spiritual awareness.
The number seven is considered in Kabbalah a dear and precious number. As the seventh month of the year, Tishrei is satiated with holy days and with mitzvot. They generate their effect throughout the entire year.
The Zodiac sign of Tishrei is moznayim - the scale (Libra). The scale represents the process of Divine judgment which takes place during the ten days between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. Every person is carefully examined and evaluated according to the actions and choices that he made throughout the passing year. This judgment determines what will happen to each person in the coming year, spiritually and physically. The main judgment is done on Rosh Hashana itself. On this day Adam, the first man, was created and sinned. On that same day G-d forgave Adam as well. The world was granted the Divine gift of Teshuvah (repentance and returning to one's Truth).
The word moznayim (scale) has in it the word oznayim (ears). It is the inner ear that is responsible for balance. Spiritually, the ears represent the power of Binah - the ability to examine and distinguish the details of our experiences. It is through Binah that we can generate the highest levels of Teshuvah, culminating on the day of Yom Kippur.
According to the book of Yetzirah, the letter that dominates the month of Tishrei is called "Lamed", which means to learn and understand. This letter is distinguished by ascending above the upper boundary of the rest of the letters of the Aleph Bet. It represents the inner, existential longing and desire of every Jew to return to and connect with the absolute source of life - the essence of G-d and his infinite light. This longing is the core of the experience of Teshuvah during the Ten Days of Awe and Repentance between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur.
The tribe associated with this month is Ephraim. The members of this tribe could not pronounce the letter "Shin" with its dot above its right arm. Instead, they would say "Sin" with the dot above its left arm. The letter Shin with its three arms represents the three forefathers of the Jewish people - Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The month of Nissan and the holiday of Passover is associated with Abraham - the right arm - Chesed (kindness). Tishrei, on the other hand, and particularly Rosh Hashana, is associated with Isaac and the attribute of Judgment - the left arm. This enables us to understand why the people of Ephraim could not pronounce the letter Shin properly.
The word Ephraim means procreation. Spiritually it alludes to the union between the male and female aspects of the Divine spheres which takes place during the holidays of Tishrei. The union begins a Divine pregnancy that leads to the birth of new souls on the seventh day of Passover - the day of the Splitting of the Red Sea and the generating of new Divine consciousness into the world.
The sense of the month of Tishrei according to Kabbalah is the sense of touch (m-sh-sh) which also represents marital relations (sh-m-sh). This sense is manifested in the hands, particularly in the fingers. It is this sense that enables us to establish our own balance and reach out to connect and unite with others.
The Divine union in the month of Tishrei is reflected by the unity and joy of the Jewish people during the holidays of Succot, Shmini Atzeret and Simchat Torah - the source of joy for the entire year.
All Jewish holidays are connected with significant events that took place in the history of the Jewish people. Some of those events were natural events and others were supernatural. This imbues each holiday with its special character: The holiday of Pesach (Passover) commemorates the exodus from Egypt and is also the holiday of spring. The holiday of Shavuot commemorates the giving of the Torah and is also the holiday of harvesting. The holiday of Succot commemorates the Divine protection of the Clouds of Glory during the travelings of the Jewish people through the desert and is also the holiday of gathering the fruits. Yom Kippur commemorates the giving of the second Tablets and is a day of repentance and Divine forgiveness. The day of Shabbat (Saturday) as well commemorates the first Shabbat that followed the six days of creation and is also a reminder of the exodus from Egypt.
Rosh Hashana, however, is an exception: It is a Jewish holiday that is seemingly not connected with any specific event in Jewish history or with any supernatural experience of the past. It is connected with the creation of nature. (Rosh Hashana is the last of the six days of Creation.)
Rosh Hashana is called Yom Hazikaron - the Day of Remembrance. All created beings are remembered on this day. The destiny of each individual being is determined for the coming year, and so is the destiny of each and every country.
Rosh Hashana is the day on which Adam, the first man, was created. Even though he was the last being to be created on the sixth and last day of creation, nevertheless this day is called "the beginning of your [G-d's] deeds".
Man is the ultimate goal of the entire creation. All others are there to serve man. Man is the chosen being. Why? Because only he can bring the whole world to its perfection. When man reaches his completion, all other created beings are elevated to their desired states. This occurs when man chooses to recognize G-d as the Master of the Universe and crowns Him as the absolute King.
Adam, the first man, was the first one to enroll the totality of creation in coronating the King. By doing this he had solidified the existence of the universe.
Every year on Rosh Hashana Jews all over the world gather in their houses of worship to renew their subjugation to the King of kings and recommit to subject themselves to His will.
According to Kabbalistic teachings, on the eve of every Rosh Hashana, G-d withdraws His light from creation. Spiritually, all worlds are then in a state of "faint". Their existence is brought down to the bare minimum. The inner life-force of the worlds, the Divine will and pleasure, is removed.
This can be understood by the example of an owner of a business; at the end of the business year he withdraws himself in order to make a general assessment and decide whether or not he would want to continue running that business, by asking himself if his wishes and goals were fulfilled. Something has to reawaken his desire to reengage with his business and to be willing to take on another year of investing himself in his company. Is it worth it?
Our world is "G-d's business". At the eve of every Rosh Hashana the inner dimension of the Divine sphere of Malchut is removed from the universe. The world is then in a fragile state. Its existence is at stake. It is through the intense process of Teshuvah as well as subjugating to the Master of the Universe and recommitting to his commandments that the Jewish people can elicit and draw down the Divine will to be a king and to recommit Himself to the existence of the world. This is called in Kabbalah the "reconstructing of the sphere of Malchut" - the sphere of Kingship - which is the Divine source for the power of creation.
* Chassidus explains why Rosh Hashana is called Rosh and not Techilah - the head of the year and not the beginning of the year: Just like the relation between the head and the organs of the body, so is the relation between Rosh Hashana and the rest of the days of the year. The life force of all parts of the body is included in the head. From the head the specific life force of each organ is provided. The life force of all the days of the year is included in Rosh Hashana, and from this day each following day of the year receives its life.
This is why we are instructed to be very aware on Rosh Hashana and to treasure every moment of this holiday. We avoid any unnecessary sleep and spend our time in prayer and saying Psalms. Our consciousness and conduct on Rosh Hashana will affect the entire year.
Each year there is a new Divine light that is brought down to the world. We ask for Divine assistance to successfully internalize this light and use it in our daily lives.
* The main mitzvah of this holiday is hearing the blowing of the shofar. There are many details to the laws pertaining to this mitzvah. There are different sounds that are sounded out in a specific order and in specific amounts that have to be heard. But the main quality of the sound of the shofar is its plain, moving sound that touches the depth of our hearts and reaches the essence of G-d Himself.
The loud sound of the shofar was first heard at the awesome event of the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. G-d then revealed Himself to mankind and gave us the widsom and the tools to embark on an intricate challenging journey that will end with the sounding of the great shofar which will be heard with the coming of Moshiach and the resurrection of the dead.
* There is a custom to dress in white on Rosh Hashana. This color represents innocence and purity. We express our faith and trust that we shall come out meritorious on this day of judgment, so we could continue to serve G-d our king with renewed enthusiasm.
* It is advisable to visit gravesites of righteous people before Rosh Hashana. We ask them to beseech G-d on our behalf and plead for His mercy.
* On the first night of Rosh Hashana and throughout the holiday we wish each other to be written and inscribed in G-d's Book of Life for a good and sweet year.
* At the beginning of the festive meal we dip an apple in honey and ask G-d to give us a good and sweet new year. We eat fish as a sign of fruitfulness since fish multiply rapidly. There is also a custom to eat the head of a ram or lamb or fist. When we do so we declare that we wish to be like a head and not like a tail during the coming year. We eat pomegranates and make a wish that we will generate many good deeds and be meritorious like the many seeds in the pomegranate. We make the holiday food rich and sweet, and avoid sour or very spicy or bitter foods.
* On Rosh Hashana morning the entire family goes to the Synogogue to pray and hear the blowing of the shofar.
After the afternoon prayer (Mincha) we go to a place of water and recite the Tashlich prayer. Water represents kindness and mercy. We ask G-d to have mercy on us and to cast all our sins into the depth of the ocean. We aim to increase our merits by resolving to add in our performance of Torah and mitzvot in quantity and quality.
Days of Teshuva
The days between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur are called the Ten Days of Teshuva. Anyone who repents during these days, his teshuva* is immediately accepted in heaven.
The seven days between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur include all the days of the week. They are auspicious for rectifying and elevating each day of the week for the year that just passed.
The Talmud tells us about three books that are opened in heaven on the day of Rosh Hashana: One book of complete tzadikim (righteous people), the second is the book of complete reshaim (wicked people) and the third is the book of beinonim (people who have both good and bad in them). The righteous people are written and sealed for life right away. The wicked are written and sealed right away for the opposite of life. The beinonim are being observed until Yom Kippur. If they repent and do teshuva they are written for life, and if not...
There are special additions added to the daily prayers during the Ten Days of Teshuva. They include acknowledging G-d as our King and various requests for the coming year. During this time it is desirable to apprach people that we may have hurt in the past, or people we had disputes with, to reconcile and ask for forgiveness (click here for two beautiful stories of forgiveness). We increase in giving charity and doing acts of goodness and kindness.
Yom Kippur is the peak of the days of Teshuva. It is a day of Divine forgiveness and atonement. Yom Kippur is the day that Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the second Tablets after many days of pleading to G-d for forgiveness following the sin of the Golden Calf. On that day G-d's forgiveness of the Jewish people was complete.
Kabbalah discusses the effect of transgressing the Divine laws on a person's awareness; When a person sins (G-d forbid) he becomes insensitive and numb in his ability to notice and sense the Divine Providence in his daily life. He becomes more and more subjugated to the powers of nature and loses his connection with the G-dly and the supernatural. This weakens his faith and trust. He becomes more and more manipulative in his attempts to carry out his wishes and desires.This compromises his power and freedom and leads to the absence of inner peace.
When one does Teshuva, his awareness and experience of reality is raised to a higher plane. He becomes more and more receptive to the presence of the supernatural forces in nature and in his daily life.
This is expressed at the end of the five prayer sections of Yom Kippur. When at the conclusion of that prayer called Neilah the entire congregation declares: "Hashem hu haElokim!" meaning that the supernatural and the natural are one. They are both expressions of the same G-d. The conflict between the Divine and the worldly is fully reconciled. There is no friction left. Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year, culminates with a clear sense of the oneness of G-d permeating every aspect of existence.
Yom Kippur isa major spiritual milestone in the relationship between G-d and the Jewish people. The unique, intimate unity between them is made possible through the intricate process of alinement and refinement that began in the beginning of the month of Elul with the graceful empowerment of the King of kings that encourages each person to begin a new journey of Teshuva; continuing through Rosh Hashana when we coronate the Master of the world as our king; rectifying and refining our beings through the Days of Teshuva; performing the intense custom of Kapparot at the eve of Yom Kippur; and finally entering into the holiest chambers of Yom Kippur - the holiest day of the year in which we refrain from physical activities like eating, drinking, physical relationships, using lotions and wearing leather shoes - reaching the highest spiritual levels and resembling the holy angels.
The core of the Jewish soul - the Yechida - touches and awakens us on Yom Kippur. The Yechida is always attached to and one with the Divine while we may sometimes forget about it. Yom Kippur brings us back to our true, untainted selves.
In our prayers we go through a meditation on the service of the High Priest in the Holy Temple of Jerusalem on the day of Yom Kippur. Dressed in his white garments, he performed his service very quietly and swiftly, barefoot and awed. He would enter the innermost chamber, the Holy of Holies, with the silent, burning incense. The entire nation stood trembling as they awaited his return. The sight of the High Priest as he exited the Holy Temple at the end of the Yom Kippur service was beyond words. He radiated holiness and joy. Everyone felt privileged to escort him back home.
Each and every one of us is a living sanctuary. After fixing and refining our own temples, we, too, can experience the awesome, focused Divine service of the High Priest within us on this holy day of Yom Kippur.
Days Between Yom Kippur and Succot
According to Kabbalah, the four days between Yom Kippur and Succot correspond to the four letters of G-d's name (Y-H-V-H). After the awesome day of Yom Kippur we continue to ascend in reaching higher levels of G-dly light. However, there's a major transition from Yom Kippur in that all the spiritual accomplishments one could achieve through the approach of fear, as was done on Yom Kippur, one can now achieve through joy. The spiritual accomplishments for this time are done with joy instead of awe and fear.
The Torah's commandment to be joyful on the holiday of Succot is more explicit than for the other holidays. Yalkut Shimoni and other works explain that this is connected with the variation in the condition of the produce of the field during the different holidays. From the crops one can understand the spiritual progress that culminates on Succot:
Pesach is in the spring, when the crops are still not ripe. There is no special joy then because one cannot know yet whether the grain will grow or not. Therefore, the Torah does not mention the mitzvah to be joyful specifically in connection with Pesach. Shavuot is the Holiday of Harvesting, when the grain is ripe and cut. At that time the joy begins but it's not complete because the grain is still in the field. It's not yet collected in a way that one can benefit from it. Therefore, the Torah mentions the mitzvah to be joyful on Shavuot only once. Succot is the Holiday of Gathering. One takes the crops from the field and brings it to the storehouses. Since the produce is now fully available for use it awakens complete joy. Therefore, the Torah mentions the mitzvah to be joyful on Succot three times.
Torah is eternal. It is connected with every place, every time and every person. Therefore, it's understood that the mitzvah of joy is not limited to the time when the people of Israel were in their fields in the Holy Land, when their physical sustenance was literally reliant on the planting process. It is an analogy to explain three spiritual stages that correspond to the three stages of the growth of grain. The fact that the Torah connects the joy of the holidays with the joy of the land hints to the fact that “produce” refers to spiritual produce i.e. Torah and mitzvot. Torah is called “tevuah” - grain, and mitzvot are called fruit. This produce is connected to every Jew.
To explain further: Pesach is the time of the Exodus. It denotes the beginning and foundation of serving G-d. When the Jews experienced the miracles in Egypt they began to develop faith in G-d. Faith is the foundation of the service of G-d. However, it's just the foundation – not the actual service, which consists of Torah and mitzvot. Faith doesn't always have an inner effect that permeates every part of the person. The produce is not ripe yet.
Shavuot is when G-d gave the Torah and mitzvot. The People of Israel received them in a manner of “naaseh vinishma” - we will do and then we will understand. It's like the harvesting of the crops that are ripe and being cut by man. The crops are cut but they are not yet in the people's homes, not yet part of the people's lives. The People of Israel accepted the Torah and mitzvot with thought and speech but not in action. They were not actually part of daily life.
Between Shavuot and Succot time passed. During this time the People of Israel began to accomplish. They began to make Torah and mitzvot part of their lives. They gathered the spiritual produce into the human domain, learning Torah and doing mitzvot in action as well.
This explains why the great joy of Succot is connected with the gathering of the crops. The joy of Succot is literally the joy of mitzvot – shaking the lulav, sitting in the succah, etc. It is the culmination of the work of Torah and mitzvot. This is a reflection of the work of the People of Israel in their land and in the world in general: to refine and purify worldly matters through collecting and gathering all the sparks of holiness that are present in the world. To elevate the sparks to holiness. This applies to our inner worlds as well: to gather, collect and bring together all thoughts, and all communications, speech, and action to make sure they are centered around holiness and permeated with holiness. This service comes to its completion during Succot, which is why the joy is so great.
The Holiday of Gathering also hints to the gathering of all Jews from all four corners of the world. This happens when the Jewish people unite, which is symbolized by bringing the “four minim” together, which corresponds to different types of Jews (see below). Coming together in unity annuls the cause of exile, which started because of dissension, and everyone will come to the Holy Land.
The succah, the temporary hut that Jews live in during the holiday of Succot, represents the seven clouds of glory that accompanied and protected the People of Israel as they traveled in the desert after they left Egypt. There is a special mitzvah to sit in the succah. This is the one mitzvah that encompasses the entire person in all his activities.
Throughout the year we need a lot of effort to accomplish a reality in which we know G-d and serve G-d in all that we do. Not just to think of G-d when we learn and pray, but in all our ways – in daily life. On Succot, the daily conduct of a person becomes a mitzvah because it's being done in the succah. From this mitzvah we learn that a person should not only serve G-d while learning or praying, but he should connect even mundane activities with G-d. When we do the mitzvah of being in the succah on the holiday of Succot, we develop the power to be G-dly in all that we do during the rest of the year. Therefore even though there are other mitzvot in this holiday, nevertheless we call this holiday Chag Ha'succot, because the succah affects the person all the time and in all his activities, even in his sleep, and even when he's not present in the succah.
In the succah we collect and gather all the sounds and talking that deviated from the path of truth. The holiness of the succah rectifies these sounds. The Torah mentions about our forefather Yaakov (Jacob) that he traveled to a place called Succot. Yaakov represents the attribute of Truth.
* In the Talmud, when the word “Chag”(the holiday) is written by itself, it's talking about the holiday of Succot. Chag means to circle. It represents the Encompassing Light of G-d, which is not limited or compromised – it remains infinite. This is represented by the succah which surrounds us. The mitzvah of shaking the lulav (and any other mitzvah, for that matter) draws down the Internal Light of G-d. On the holiday of Succot, when we do the mitzvah of the lulav in the succah we combine the Encompassing Light and Internal Light to create light which is higher than creation, yet internalized and perceived by creation.
* The letters of the word succah have the numerical value of 91, which is the same numerical value as two of G-d's many names: Y-HV-H (26) and Adnai (65). Havayeh is the Encompassing Light of G-d (transcends the worlds and creation) and Adnai is the Internal Light of G-d (internalized and adjusted to creation). Succah equals / combines both.
In addition, Y-H-V-H is the male aspect of G-dliness, the midot (emotions). Adnai represents the female aspect of G-dliness, the sphere of Malchut. The holiday of Succot is also called Zman Simchateinu, the Holiday of Our Joy, because of the unification of these two aspects – the male and female spheres of G-dliness. This union gives birth to additional G-dly light and joy, like the unification of human male and female which gives birth to new life.
* In the relationship between the People of Israel and G-d, we are the female partner, the recipient, and G-d is the male, the giver. The succah is like the chupah under which the union was created following the reconciliation on Yom Kippur.
The Divine Attributes on Succot
There are ten Divine attributes. For those familiar with the structure of these attributes (click here for a comprehensive overview of these and other structures in Kabbalah), the two days of Rosh Hashana correspond to the attributes of Keter and Chochma, and Yom Kippur represents Binah. The holiday of Succot has seven days corresponding to the seven midot.
Additionally, the four minim correspond to the Divine attributes. The three myrtle branches correspond to Chesed, Gevurah and Tiferet. Two willow branches are Netzach and Hod. Lulav is Yesod. Etrog, Malchut.
Simchat Beit Hashoeva
During the times when the Holy Temple in Jerusalem still stood, wine was poured on the altar for the Shlomim sacrifice. Throughout the year the libation was done with wine, but during the seven days of Succot, two libations were poured: one of wine and one of water. All matters of the holiday were done with extra joy and happiness, but the joy for the pouring of the water was greater than any other joy. Being engaged in the pouring of the water was greater than any other service in the Temple.
A great deal of people, men, women and children would gather starting from 2 ½ hours before the end of the day until the next morning, for around 15 ½ hours. This occured for the entire seven days of the holiday. The ceremony, in short, was as follows: When it was not Shabbat or Yom Tov, Kohanim (Priests) blew trumpets and Leviim (Leviites) played musical instruments. Young Kohanim illuminated the courtyard of the Temple until the whole city of Jerusalem was lit up. There was singing, music and communal praise of G-d while watching the pouring of the water. For the entire night the people watched and rejoiced. Respected sages would dance and juggle torches in front of the nation, exhibiting boundless joy. At the end, in the morning, the Kohanim brought the daily morning sacrifice and blew the trumpets, the people bowed to G-d and went home to continue celebrating the holiday with prayer and learning. They returned again for the daily afternoon sacrifice when the festivities would begin again.
Simchat Beit Hashoeva means “The Joy of the Drawing of the Water” because the water was drawn from the Shiloach springs to be poured on the altar. Anyone who merited to rejoice in this festival would also “draw” joy that brought redemption to the soul from any pain. The Jerusalem Talmud relates that people would also “draw” Ruach Hakodesh – Divine Inspiration from this festival. The Talmud states that one who has not seen the joy of the Simchat Beit Hashoeva has never seen joy in his life.
Now that the Temple has been destroyed and we don't have the altar, the sacrifices or the libations, nevertheless we draw from this holiday great joy, as the Torah says about Succot, “You will rejoice on your holiday.” Therefore in many Jewish communities people gather during the nights of Succot to sing and praise G-d in memory of the Simchat Beit Hashoeva. Many also play music to remember the beautiful ceremony that was done in the Temple.
Meditation on Joy
Become aware of the fact that from the joy of the holiday of Succot one can draw the ability to rejoice and generate happiness for the entire year. This is not just a sense of happiness that comes as a passing mood. It is a joy that is generated from the essence of the soul. The essence of the soul, by definition, flows with the joy of existing, the joy of being present to G-dliness and the joy of being able to be a conduit for G-dliness. The holiday of Succot is a good time to tap into that unconditional joy, regardless of circumstances in your life. Start by committing yourself to the behavior of joy in thought, speech and action. Generate expressions of joy, knowing that the essence of your soul, since it is connected to the source of life – to G-dliness – is infinitely joyful. This storehouse of joy is available for your use at any time: all you need to do is connect to it.
There is a parable of a father whose children have come to visit him. They spend seven wonderful days together bonding and celebrating. At the end of the seven days, when the children are about to leave, the father tells them, "It's hard for me to say goodbye. Please stay with me for one more day. " This day is the holiday of Shmini Atzeret, the eighth day. After seven days of being in G-d's home, in the Sukkah, G-d begs us to stay with Him for one more day.
It is also called Simchat Torah - the Joy of the Torah. It is the day when we complete the entire Torah after reading it throughout the year. We celebrate by removing all the Torah scrolls from their arks and dancing with them. Why not celebrate by learning more? Isn't it a celebration of how much we learned?
Chassidus explains that we keep the scrolls closed and covered while we dance with them to remind us that Torah is not just about intellect and logic. It's not even just about Divine logic. It's about celebrating the HOLINESS of the Torah. And when it comes to holiness, a simpleton can be just as connected to the Torah as the wisest sage. We need not be the most learned individuals to be able to celebrate the joy of the Torah. Simchat Torah is for everyone.
*Teshuva: Repentance and return to the truth of oneself and to G-d.