Shabbat candles: 6:02 p.m.
Torah: Genesis 1:1-6:8
Haftarah: Isaiah 45:5-43:10
Havdalah: 6:59 p.m.
We just concluded a most intensive festival period, encompassing a rollercoaster of religious emotions, from the intense soul searching of Rosh HaShanah to the heartfelt prayers for forgiveness of Yom Kippur. We have built and dwelt for seven days in a make-shift sukkah reminiscent of the booths in the desert, as well as of the “fallen sukkah of King David,” the Holy Temple. We have punctuated our Prayer for Rain with joyous and sometimes even raucous dancing around the Torah, whose reading we concluded on Simchat Torah. After a full month of Tishrei’s holy days, we are now entering our first post-festival Shabbat, in which we read of the world’s creation.
Although these segments seem disparate, there is a conceptual scheme that connects them all.
Despite the hundreds of years between them, two great theologians — Rav Yosef Albo (1380-1444), in his Sefer Haikkarim, “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 HaShanah Musaf Amidah. Conventional wisdom sees the High Holy Days as frightening days of judgment, but Rosh Hashanah actually teaches us that a major function of the Jewish people in this world is to establish God’s Kingship of love, morality and peace throughout the world. Indeed, the chasidim, and especially Chabad, refer to the night of Rosh Hashanah 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 emerged from our feelings of inadequacy resulting from improper conduct towards humanity and to God.
Yom Kippur is not only a day of forgiveness for Jews. Our reading of the Book of Jonah (where God commands the prophet to bring the 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), demonstrates that God desires repentance and forgiveness for all humanity. The Musaf Amidah 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 sukkah represents the Holy Temple, or at least the model of the sanctuary in the desert after which it was crafted. The guests of the sukkah (ushpizin) are the great personalities of biblical history, and the most fitting decorations for the sukkah are scenes from the Temple service. It is not accidental that the depiction of the Temple service during Yom Kippur’s Musaf Amidah begins by invoking the creation of the world; with the Temple somehow serving as a magnet for all nations, and the conduit through which they will accept the Kingship of God, with a lifestyle reflecting His morality and love.
Please note the following amazing parallels when the Bible [Exodus 31:2-3] 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 (chachmah), with understanding (tevunah) 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 (chachmah), fashioned the heavens with understanding (tevunah) and with knowledge (da’at) 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 where our religious teachings must be disseminated throughout humanity.
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 or Pesach. Pesach 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 Tishrei festivals are universal in import, focusing on our responsibility to be a Light unto the Nations. This is why on Simchat Torah, we take the Torah 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 and Simchat Torah move seamlessly into the reading of Bereshit and the creation of the world.
Rabbi Shlomo Riskin is chancellor Ohr Torah Stone and Chief Rabbi of Efrat.