September 2011: On Rosh Hashanah [the Jewish New Year], the entire world is judged, both the physical bodies of mankind and the souls. They are all brought to attention and are judged on everything that they did over the entire year that passed. We have been taught that even the footsteps that a person makes are counted and are brought for judgment on that day, as is written “All my steps are counted” (Job 31:4).
It is explained in the commentary Chaim Umazon that the reason that mankind was not created with wings is so that he would not be able to fly immediately to do a sinful act. Since a person has to walk to do so, it is possible that as he proceeds he will have second thoughts and a more pure spirit will be aroused within him, counteracting the wicked thought and giving him the chance to repent before acting. Walking, instead of flying, gives him time for this introspection. His steps are therefore counted, and he is punished for failing to take advantage of this time (and the signs along the way) in order to repent of his bad intentions. Conversely he receives a reward for the very steps he takes to perform a mitzvah.
Three groups of heavenly angels stand in the judgment on Rosh Hashanah. Rabbi Yossi taught that three groups enter [for judgment] on the Day of Judgment: the group of the completely righteous, the group of the completely wicked, and the group of those in between [known as "beinonim"].
Corresponding to these, there are three powers in a person: the power of the holy Neshama [relating to the righteous who empower their soul to control their body], the power of lust and desires [relating to the wicked who empower their lust-driven illusions to defeat the desire of their holy soul], and the power to prevent wrongdoing [relating to the beinonim].
What is the power to prevent wrongdoing? Rabbi Yehuda explained that this is a power that grows and prevents the body from achieving all its requirements.
The third group, the beinonim, is controlled by the nature of their bodies. This nature dictates to them what they think they need to do. Their failure is that they don’t bring the actions so generated, such as eating and talking etc. which are not forbidden, into the realm of the holy.
Rabbi Yossi ben Pazzi said: Come and see the mercy shown by the Holy One Blessed Be He. Even though the heavenly court comes to stand in judgment [for misdeeds] and to judge the Creation, there also appear those who give evidence before Him of a person’s merits and [not just] misdeeds.
Rabbi Yossi ben Pazzi taught that three groups of heavenly angels stand in the judgment on Rosh Hashanah. There are those that give evidence on the good that a person has done on the side of his merits. And there are those that show his bad deeds to the side of his guilt [and the third group is to execute the judgment].
The mystics write that as the sun sets before Rosh Hashanah, the universe goes into a comatose state. A slumber descends on all existence; everything comes to a stand-still in cosmic silence, in apprehension of its contract being renewed.
Is existence a form of revelation or a form of concealment?
As the sun sets before Rosh Hashanah and existence hangs in the balance – it’s a good time to review the very nature of this existence that we are part of and whose parameters define our lives. Is existence a form of revelation or a form of concealment?
This is not a mere abstract or esoteric question; it touches on the fundamental nature of our beings. Is the true essence of a human being and of all existence; defined by what is visible to the eye and tangible to the five senses, or is the essence quite invisible, something that cannot be experienced in a revealed state?
In other words: is what we see really a state of revelation, or is it the other way around, what we see is the glove, while the true hand remains hidden within?
The first verse of Genesis: “In the beginning when G-d created heaven and earth,” answers the riddle. The name for G-d used in this verse is “Elokim.” The classic commentator Rashi explains why the name “Havaya” is not used (as in a later verse, Genesis 2:4): “Initially the Divine intention was to create existence with the element of justice, but He perceived that the world would not endure; so He preceded it with the element of compassion, blending it with the element of justice.”
…why did G-d initially consider creating it that way…
What is the meaning of this explanation? Since the world could not endure on justice alone, why did G-d initially consider creating it that way; and only later did He decide to integrate the element of compassion? And what exactly is the meaning of ‘justice’ and ‘compassion’?
Justice (Elokim) refers to the concealment of the Divine omnipresence which was a prerequisite for existence to come into being. As long as the Divine reality is all consuming, there is no room for any other consciousness to emerge. Explains the great mystic, Rabbi Isaac Luria (the Arizal of Tsfat), in his revolutionary tzimtzum doctrine, that the Divine presence (i.e. light) was concealed in a type of cosmic “black hole,” which allowed for the emergence of the conscious, independent personality of existence as we know it. Like a teacher with an infinitely greater mind than his student conceals his brilliance in order to allow “space” for the student to contain the ideas on his limited terms.
This tzimtzum/concealment is a called justice (din and gevurah), which withholds, measures and limits the transmission. By contrast, compassion (Havaya) activates the flow of energy and light.
Without this concealment an independent existence can never come to be.
Now we can understand the meaning of Rashi’s words: The basis of all existence is rooted in the element of “justice”, which concentrates and conceals the Divine light. Without this concealment an independent existence can never come to be. Thus, genesis begins that the universe was created with the name Elokim. However, G-d recognized the far-reaching consequences of a universe whose engine is strict justice and concealment. He therefore infused into the tzimtzum an element of compassion – ingrained in the concealment is the purpose that it must bring light.
When a great teacher conceals the full intensity of his mind he does so not as an end in itself, but as a means to convey the idea to the student. In other words, the concealment (justice) itself is ultimately an expression of compassion, allowing the student to absorb the wisdom.
So too, the concealment of the Divine energy (the tzimtzum), so necessary for existence to emerge, is not an end in itself but an act of compassion that will allow us – an autonomous entity – to unite with the Divine, step by step, on our terms.
Here we have the answer to our initial question as to the nature of existence: Existence as we perceive it is actually a state of concealment. The deeper you travel into the intimate recesses of the human spirit the less tangible is the sensation, the fewer are the words, the less defined is the experience.
In other words, the entire nature of existence is turned on its head, upside down and inside out: Our sensation of the revealed is actually a state of concealment, and that what is concealed is the true state of revelation. The visible is an artificial cover, and the invisible is true reality. This existence as we know it, as we perceive and experience it merely a shell, the surface layer that shrouds what lies behind the curtain.
And the journey and purpose of our lives is not to be distracted by the outer mechanics, not to be deluded into thinking that there is nothing more than the outer shell. The objective of life is to weaken the hold of the concealment (justice) and reveal the compassion and revelation within.
No person is immune to the forces of “justice” in this dark world. Our challenge is not to be overcome by the severer moments of life, and recognize the compassion even in the darker moments. Knowing that compassion is imbued into the very fabric of existence (or else the world could not have endured), becomes an eternal source of hope, giving us the strength to overcome any challenge.
This is one of the main themes of Rosh Hashanah, when we celebrate the birthday of the universe and its crown-jewel, the human being.