(photo credit: Israel Weiss http://artframe.co.il)
Our nation is just concluding an intensive festival period which encompasses a rollercoaster of emotions. We have moved from the intense soul-searching of Rosh Hashana to the heartfelt prayers for forgiveness of Yom Kippur.
We have built and will dwell for seven days in makeshift houses reminiscent of the booths in the desert as well as of the “fallen succa of King David,” the Holy Temple. We will punctuate our prayer for rain with joyous and sometimes even raucous dancing around the Torah, whose reading we conclude just at Festival’s end. After a full month of festivities, we will enter our first post-festival Shabbat, on which we shall read of the creation of the world.
I believe there is a conceptual scheme that connects all these seemingly disparate elements. I also believe many observant Jews miss the theological thread that magnificently unites this particular holiday period because the religious establishment does not sufficiently stress the real message that Judaism is trying to teach.
Despite the hundreds of years between them, two great theologians – Rabbi Yosef Albo (1380-1444), in his Sefer Ha’ikarim (Book of Essential Jewish Beliefs) and Franz Rosenzweig (1886-1929) in his Star of Redemption – insist that the fundamental principles of Jewish faith are outlined in the three special blessings of the Rosh Hashana musaf amida prayer.
Conventional wisdom sees the High Holy Days as frightening days of
judgment, but Rosh Hashana actually teaches us that a major function of
the Jewish people in this world is to establish the Kingship of our God
of love, morality and peace throughout the world. Indeed, the hassidim –
and especially Chabad – refer to the night of Rosh Hashana as the night
of the Coronation.
Yom Kippur is our Day of Forgiveness. In order for us to dedicate
ourselves to the task of bringing the God of compassionate righteousness
and justice to the world in the coming year, each of us must take to
the task with renewed vigor. We can only muster the necessary energy if
we have successfully dealt with our feelings of inadequacy resulting
from improper conduct toward humanity and to God.
Yom Kippur is not only a day of forgiveness for Jews.
Our reading of the Book of Jonah with God’s command that the prophet
bring the gentile Assyrians to repentance and the refrain which we
iterate and reiterate during our fast, “for My house shall be called a
house of prayer for all nations” (Isaiah 56:7) demonstrate that God
desires repentance and forgiveness for all of humanity.
The musaf amida on Yom Kippur describes in exquisite detail every moment
of the Temple service for forgiveness; indeed it transports us to the
Holy Temple itself.
Our succa represents the Holy Temple, or at least the model of the
sanctuary in the desert after which it was crafted. The guests of the
) are the great personalities of biblical history, and
the most fitting decorations for the succa are scenes from the Temple
service (so magnificently reproduced by Mahzor Hamikdash
). It is not
accidental that the depiction of the Temple service of the musaf amida
in the Yom Kippur service begins by invoking the creation of the world.
The Temple should somehow serve as a magnet for all nations and the
conduit through which they will accept the kingship of God and a
lifestyle reflecting His morality and love.
Note the following amazing parallelism; when the Bible describes the
building of a sanctuary, it uses the following words: “Behold I have
called by name Bezalel the son of Uri the son of Hur from the tribe of
Judah and I have filled him with the spirit of God: with Wisdom
), with Understanding (tevuna
) and with Knowledge (da’at)”
In the Book of Proverbs, which invokes God’s creation of the world, a
parallel verse is found: “The Lord founded the earth with Wisdom
), fashioned the heavens with Understanding (tevuna
) and with
) pierced through the great deep and enabled the heavens
to give forth dew” (Proverbs 3:19, 20).
Apparently, the Bible is asking us to recreate the world with the Holy
Temple from whence our religious teachings must be disseminated
From this perspective, we understand why our rejoicing over the Torah
takes place at the conclusion of this holiday season rather than during
the Festival of Shavuot. Passover and Shavuot are national festivals on
which we celebrate the founding of our nation from the crucible of
Egyptian slavery and our unique status as the chosen people resulting
from the revelation at Sinai.
The festivals of the month of Tishrei are universal in import, focusing
on our responsibility to be a Light unto the Nations. This is why on
Simhat Torah we take the Bible scrolls out into the street, into the
public thoroughfare and dance with them before the entire world.
From this perspective we can well understand why Shemini Atzeret-Simhat
Torah moves seamlessly into the reading of Bereshit, Genesis, of the
creation of the world.The writer is the founder and chancellor of Ohr Torah Stone Colleges and Graduate Programs and chief rabbi of Efrat.