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Michael Laitman, PhD

Chapter 7.2 – The Meaning of the Jewish Holidays

Over the years, we have been presented with a number of interpretations regarding the meaning of the Jewish holidays. Some were easier for us to accept, and some seemed less acceptable to our rational understanding. In this chapter we briefly explain the significance of some of the holidays from the perspective of Kabbalah.

All the holidays represent specific phases in one’s path of discovery and understanding of the Upper World, the Creator, leading to the state of complete unification with Him. Pesach (Passover), for example, represents our exit from the sensation of the material world to the sensation of the spiritual world.

It happens when we begin to feel an external, broader world beyond our physical world. We begin to see how spiritual forces affect us, altering the course of physical events and processes in our world.

Pesach is the only holiday that is still connected with our material world, or rather, with our exit from it. All other holidays signify a process of discovery and understanding of the spiritual world far beyond our own. In order to advance toward the spiritual worlds, we must be well versed in their rules that govern them.

The holiday of the giving of the Torah (Pentecost, Matan Torah) stands for the acceptance of the "guidebook," the laws by which our spiritual ascent is performed.

During Rosh Hashanah (the Hebrew New Year) and the ten days that follow until Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), we build within us a new Sefira out of the ten each day, thus creating the vessel of the soul. Afterwards, during the holiday of Sukkot (Tabernacles Feast), this vessel fills with the Upper Light.

Because this vessel is empty at first, it produces a feeling of absence and lack. Over this period of ten days, we ask for pardon from the Creator. This process finds its expression in prayers.

So what actually is the meaning of the Hebrew New Year (Rosh Hashanah)? From which point do we begin our count? Rosh Hashanah is the day of the creation of Adam. The Creator created the soul and called it Adam in order to grant it eternal delight. The Creator did not create anything but that desire to receive pleasure. The Kabbalah calls this desire, “the will to receive delight and pleasure”.

Thus, all that exists is the Creator and the desire to receive pleasure that He created. But pleasure from what? From the Creator! The creature’s sensation of the Creator is pleasure. In Kabbalah it is called “Light,” and the desire to receive the Light is called a “vessel”.

600,000 rays stretch from the spiritual object called Adam. Each ray produces a tiny soul at its end, and we are all interconnected through the soul of Adam. This spiritual object was created on Rosh Hashanah, hence the great importance of this holiday.

The creation of the world began on the first day and extended over the next five days, or over the next five spiritual degrees. Adam was created on the sixth day. Adam, who was at the highest spiritual degree on the sixth day, did not wait for the seventh day (Sabbath) and received the entire Light of the Creator into its inner vessel (described as the eating off the forbidden fruit).

Adam's soul tried to attain the purpose of Creation all at once, but failed and consequently broke into 600,000 parts. The parts continued to break and split into thousands of even smaller parts, all of which exist in souls, meaning inside people living in our world. Each of these particles must complete its individual correction through many cycles. Then these particles will unite into one collective soul, an enormous spiritual structure called "Adam."

The autumn holidays stand for the process of the unification of the soul with the Creator. First, during Rosh Hashanah there is a process of complete detachment of the soul from the Creator. This process is entitled “Sawing off” (Nesira), because this process seemingly cuts this entire system in two.

Over the next ten days until Yom Kippur, the soul that was separated from the Creator receives its ten Sefirot: Keter, Hochma, Bina, Hesed, Gevura, Tifferet, Netzah, Hod, Yesod, Malchut, and gradually begins to adopt the properties of the Creator. The word Sefira comes from the word, "sapphire," meaning "sparkling."

After that, on Yom Kippur, all ten Sefirot gather into a collective soul. After Yom Kippur begins a process called “Sweetening” (mitigation), a process of correction. It is done by changing the egoistic attributes of creation to the altruistic attributes of the Creator. Because the properties of creation become identical to those of the Creator, He begins to fill the ten Sefirot of creation with His light, which the soul experiences as immense pleasure.

That process occurs during the holiday of Sukkot, though only a portion of the Light can enter the soul before the end of correction. As a result of the filling of the soul with Light, Creation attains the spiritual degree called Simchat Torah (Rejoicing in the Torah).

That day is also called Shmini Atzeret (the eighth day that stops). That is because it is forbidden to receive Light for more than seven days before the end of correction. Filling Creation with Light is executed according to the extent of correction it has attained, meaning the extent of sameness with the properties of the Light it has acquired. When Creation becomes completely identical with the attributes of the Light, it is filled with it completely.

The process of the creation of the soul begins with having completely opposite properties to the Light’s. Then, the vessel of the soul is gradually corrected so as to finally adopt a completely altruistic desire, identical to that of the Light. The more alike the soul and the Light become, the more Light it receives, and the holidays symbolize this process in our world.

The Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) is also considered a holiday, and the ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are days of thought and contemplation. During that time, many uncorrected desires are collected and then corrected and filled with Light. Therefore, these are good days, and must be met with joy, corresponding to their spiritual purpose.

Yom Kippur completes the process of creation of the ten Sefirot of the soul, and renders it capable of receiving the Light of the Creator. This means that the soul is now prepared, yet still empty. This emptiness is symbolically consistent with the five prohibitions of Yom Kippur: eating and drinking, bathing, wearing perfume, wearing leather, and performing sexual intercourse.

These prohibitions are joined with the ordinary Sabbath prohibition, as the soul/vessel is not yet ready to receive the Light of the Creator. On the Sabbath, the soul climbs to the world of Atzilut by the power of spiritual forces that come from Above, not by its own strength. Because it reaches such a high level of spirituality, but with help, the soul must refuse to receive the Light that fills that world, if it wants to extend its stay. That is the symbolic reason for the prohibitions of the Sabbath.

The soul rises on Yom Kippur to an even higher degree than it does on the Sabbath. Accordingly there are five additional prohibitions, because the soul consists of five parts (Sefirot): Keter, Hochma, Bina, Zeir Anpin, and Malchut, and each Sefira has its own limitations in the world of Atzilut.

Yom Kippur designates the completion of the creation process of the soul. It then becomes capable of receiving the Creator’s Light. On that day we reach a spiritual degree where the vessel can receive the entire Light of the Creator, meaning at this stage it is ready, but still empty.

The days between Yom Kippur and Sukkot are days of detachment from the previous situation. The Surrounding Light begins to gradually enter the soul on Sukkot. It is called "Surrounding Light" until the holiday of Sukkot, because it remains outside the soul. But once inside it is regarded as "Inner Light."

These are special days, when the Light of the Creator enters the soul and fills it completely on the day of Simchat Torah (Rejoicing of the Torah). All during the seven days of the holiday, the seven Sefirot of our soul fill with Light. Filling means good days, happy ones.

A soul that has been completely filled with Light matches the spiritual degree of the holiday of Simchat Torah. The entire Upper Light that is to ultimately fill the soul is called "Torah." When that process is carried out, the spiritual degree of a soul that can perform it is called "Simchat Torah”.

When we read these lines, we must ask: “Why does it take seven days to fill the soul, and not five, or ten days for example?” Where did this division to seven parts, or Sefirot, come from?

In fact, this division is a result of the partial filling of the soul with this Light. The final correction and fulfillment of the soul will only occur at the end of correction. Because the Sefirot that are to receive the Light of Wisdom are as yet inoperative, the number is only seven.

During these holidays, a very powerful spiritual Light comes from Above. It surrounds our entire universe and our souls. It is called “Surrounding Light” and it yields a spiritual ascent, protects, raises and cleanses us. That is why these days are also called “Days of Good Will,” meaning the Creator regards our actions favorably on these days, provided we use them to advance toward Him.

The actual reception of the Light is postponed until Sukkot and Simchat Torah. These are two contradicting situations of Creation: on the one hand, there are the holidays of Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and the, “terrible days”, when the real desire for perfection and spiritual growth evolves. On the other hand, there are the holidays of Sukkot and Simchat Torah, when the corrected soul is filled with the upper light. It is recommended to read Kabbalah during this time, because there is a very strong light that shines from above.

It is written in the prayer of Rosh Hashanah that, “Prayer, almsgiving and repentance cancel the punishment”. That means that even if one is meant to suffer pain, anguish and torments, these three operations prevent the punishment from being dealt.

Such an operation cannot be in the spiritual world as it can be in ours, when one asks a question and receives an answer. An operation in the spiritual world relies on the correction of the intent, and only afterwards one receives the reward.

Therefore, all our requests should focus on asking for help in the process of seeking correction, and not for personal assistance in this or that inconsequential issue. The request for spiritual strength must focus on our ability to correct our intention and thus draw nearer to the Creator. Thus, it all depends on directing our spiritual efforts in the right direction.

We can now understand that prayer is, in fact, the creation of the spiritual intent of the soul. Almsgiving is called “a screen” in Kabbalah, meaning limiting the use of the egoism. It is called "almsgiving" when there is a screen that can direct this spiritual intent only toward spiritual ascent (altruism) and not toward greed (egoism).

Repentance is when the intent and the screen are used for spiritual ascent, progress toward the Light, and a return to Ein Sof. It is a return to the Creator. By doing so, one extinguishes all the barriers and misery, and steps into the realm of the Upper Light.

All the phenomena and the events we now perceive as negative, the anguish we experience, happen only because of the absence of the Light of the Creator around us. Therefore, if we reach a higher spiritual degree, we will naturally be able to feel and receive the Upper Light, and thus avoid the judgment of the Creator.

The Sukkah (the Sukkot hut) stands for the zone, or vessel of the soul, its structure and attributes. We must create that spiritual system called Sukkah within us. This system will reflect our interrelations with the Light that surrounds us. The soul cannot receive the Upper Light until it is corrected, and it therefore remains outside the soul in the form of Surrounding Light. The wisdom of Kabbalah helps us to gradually correct our soul and induce the gradual permeation of the Light into our soul.

In order for the Light to be able to permeate the soul, it must acquire identical attributes to those of the Light. Spiritual sameness of the properties of the soul with the Light is physically expressed in the rules of construction of the Sukkah. Constructing the Sukkah is a very meticulous process, especially with regard to the thatch that covers it.

The wisdom of Kabbalah teaches us the external appearance and the measurements of the Sukkah, as it teaches us about all other Mitzvot–the laws of the Upper World we carry out in our world as a reflection of the spiritual laws. When Kabbalists perform these Mitzvot in the spiritual realm, meaning in their souls, they feel the holidays as sublime, eternal and an entire form of existence.

The Upper Light can only permeate the soul when our spiritual desires correlate to its properties. This is parallel to a radio receiver tuning its inner frequency to match a specific wavelength in order to find a specific station.

Turning the "dial" of my transmitter toward the Light of the Creator is a little more complex than that. First, I must truly want to feel the spiritual world. That desire must be extremely powerful. This spiritual desire does not appear all at once; it often takes many years to prepare and cultivate its every detail.

It is only possible to feel the Light of the Creator in a vessel that was created by specific rules in a unique, concise and clear method. The wisdom of Kabbalah elaborates on that method in great detail in the most significant book that Baal HaSulam, the greatest Kabbalist of the previous century left us, The Study of the Ten Sefirot.

There is no contradiction between the fact that the vessel of the soul is created between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and that now we say that it may take months or years to prepare. That period of time only represents the creation process of the vessel of the soul in our world. We can describe our entire existence during all the cycles from the first to the last, as one year, at the end of which we are equipped with a spiritual vessel of identical attributes to those of the Upper Light and filled with Light.

The creation process of the soul begins with a spiritual degree called Rosh Hashanah. The next correction correlates to a spiritual ascent to a degree called Yom Kippur. Five days pass from Yom Kippur to the beginning of Sukkot, during which the preparation of the five parts of the Upper Light, Nefesh, Ruach, Neshama, Haya and Yechida, are performed. The Upper Light permeates the soul during the seven days of Sukkot, because the vessel of the soul consists of seven Sefirot: Hesed, Gevura, Tifferet, Netzah, Hod, Yesod, Malchut.

The Upper Light can only permeate the soul (Malchut, represented by the citron, Etrog) when it is connected with a superior spiritual object (Zeir Anpin, represented by the palm branch, Lulav) and the origins of the Light, Netzah and Hod (represented by the myrtle and the willow, Hadas and Arava respectively). Just as there is a need to tune the radio receiver to receive the outer wave, so the soul must be attuned internally to match the properties of the Light, the Creator, and only then will Light permeate and fill it.

In order to direct the soul toward reception of the Upper Light, the receiving vessel (Malchut, the citron) must be connected with the giver (Zeir Anpin, the palm branch), which symbolizes the Creator. The myrtle and the willow stand for the attributes of the Creator that the soul must acquire.

If the correction of the soul is completed, and it adopts the properties of the Creator (meaning if the soul places itself under the Surrounding Light of the Creator through a series of spiritual actions) it is influenced by it in a special way called “embrace”.

There is a “left embrace” and a “right embrace”. The Song of Songs writes about it (2:6): “Let His left hand be under my head, and His right hand embrace me.” This state correlates to the preparation of the vessel to be filled with Light before Sukkot (“Let His left hand be under my head”), followed by the spiritual unification with the Creator and the filling with Light on Simchat Torah (“and His right hand embrace me”).

Our bodies are a reflection of spiritual forces and connections. Just as one force influences another in the spiritual world, so these forces express themselves in our physical body parts. Each part of the body has its appropriate properties, and the interconnections with other parts, just as in the spiritual world.

HBD, HGT, NHY (Hochma-Bina-Daat, Hesed-Gevura-Tifferet, Netzah-Hod-Yesod) are three parts of the spiritual ‘hand’ that seemingly embraces the soul, and surrounds it from three sides: the arm and the forearm, which are of equal length, designate the two long sides of the Sukkah, and the third, short side of the Sukkah is like the palm of the hand. All the properties and measurements of the Sukkah derive from the properties of the Surrounding Light and the soul, which must be completely identical if they are to unite. Thus, the Light will fill the soul entirely and they will unite, a state called "spiritual Zivug" (mating). We call that state Simchat Torah.

The Sukkah no longer exists on Simchat Torah, because the Light has already entered the soul and filled it entirely, hence the complete feeling of joy expressed in this joyous festival. This holiday (spiritual situation) occurs when the soul is filled with joy because it fills the Creator with joy.

On Pesach and Sukkot, Kabbalists are especially meticulous and keep even the most strict commandments, because these two holidays symbolize the two most crucial moments in the evolution of the soul and the attainment of the purpose of Creation–the process of the discovery and reception of the Upper Knowledge, the Creator. It is the essence of the wisdom of Kabbalah. These two moments (Pesach and Sukkot) symbolize the beginning and the end of one’s spiritual way, hence their special significance. This is the reason why Kabbalists are so careful about keeping the Mitzvot that correlate to these holidays.

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