By Yosef Y. Jacobson
If G-d is “perfect,” as Judaism says, what prompted Him to create the universe? What void was He seeking to fill?
The answer provided in Jewish Mysticism is that G-d desired marriage. Marriage necessitates the existence of someone distinct from yourself with whom to share your life, a union of husband and wife. G-d chose humanity as His bride.
What a marriage this has been — a roller coaster of romance, affection, quarrels, and estrangement. In every generation, many counselors advocated a divorce while others proclaimed the Groom dead. Yet, the relationship has endured because both partners intrinsically know that they belong together. When all veils are removed, man manifestly yearns for union with G-d.
According to the Kabbalah, the High Holiday season is the annual experience of the cosmic matrimony between G-d and humanity. The five key spiritual moments of the season parallel the basic phases of a conventional courtship and union. The holidays invite us to journey through this process again and rejuvenate the relationship.
The Hebrew month of Elul precedes the High Holidays. This month is described in Chassidic teachings as a time when “the King goes out to the field to meet with His people, greeting them with kindness and tenderness, displaying a joyous face to all.” We, in turn, “open our hearts to G-d.”
This time provides us with an opportunity to get to know G-d.
The Groom Proposes
The world goes haywire, says Master Kabbalist Rabbi Issac Luriah. “During the night of Rosh Hashanah,” he writes, “the consciousness animating the universe becomes frail and weak.” The great Jewish mystics would, in fact, feel physically weak during the night of Rosh Hashanah.
All of existence was brought into being for the sake of this proposed marriage. If we refuse Him, then it was all in vain. The entire cosmos awaits our decision.
The Bride Commits
On the morning of Rosh Hashanah, a piercing sound rises from the Earth: the cry of the shofar. It is a simple cry, expressing man’s yearning to connect with the Divine.
We have decided. Our answer is yes.
The wedding day arrives: Yom Kippur. A day described in the Kabbalah as “the time of oneness” in which cosmic bride and groom forge a bond for eternity.
In the Jewish tradition, bride and groom fast on their wedding day. On the day we unite with G-d, we abstain from food or drink as well. The Talmud teaches that upon marriage, all the sins of the groom and bride are forgiven.
That’s why this day is called Yom Kippur, “the day of atonement.”
The marriage ceremony begins with the stirring melody of Kol Nidre, in which we remove the power from vows and addictions that tie us down. During these profound moments, we attempt to free ourselves from compulsive behavior and negative habits and let go of resentment, animosity, anger, fear and envy.
The traditional Jewish marriage ceremony culminates with the bride and groom entering a secluded room (cheder yichud in Hebrew) to spend time alone with each other. Yom Kippur culminates with the Ne’ilah, or closure prayer, so called because as the sun of Yom Kippur sets, the gates of heaven close — with us inside.
During Ne’ilah, every soul is alone with G-d.
When the bride and groom exit their private room, the party begins. From Yom Kippur we leap into the seven-day festival of Sukkot, described in the Torah as “the time of our Joy.”
These days are filled with feasting and ecstatic happiness, celebrating the union between G-d and His people.
The wedding feast is over. The guests and relatives have returned home. In a consummation of the relationship, bride and groom experience intimacy for the first time, their lives melded together as a husband and wife.
Hence, following the seven days of Sukkot, we reach the zenith of the High Holiday season: Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah, described in the Kabbalah as the “time of intimacy with the Divine.” During these two charged days the joy reaches its peak, as G d and His people merge into a seamless whole. A Divine seed is planted in each of our hearts.
That’s why we recite special prayers for rain on the festival of Shemini Atzeret. What is rain? In the midst of intimacy between heaven and earth, procreative drops from heaven are absorbed, fertilized and nurtured by mother-earth, which in time will give birth to its botanical children.
The Ordinary Month
The honeymoon comes to an end and the excitement begins to fade. Now the marriage becomes about caring for each other and demonstrating trust and loyalty as we work through the daily grind of life.
Out of the twelve months in the Jewish calendar, the only one lacking a single festive day immediately follows the High Holiday season. The Hebrew month of Cheshvan is the time to build a genuine relationship with our marriage Partner in our everyday lives. This is the time to discover the joy born out of a continuous relationship with G d.
Based on the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, zt’l. Courtesy of Chabad.org.