By Rabbi YY Jacobson
Why Are We Here?
If G-d is "perfect", as Judaism teaches, what prompted Him to create us? What void was He seeking to fill?
One answer provided in Jewish Mysticism is that G-d desired marriage. The most accomplished and self-sufficient bachelor—and G-d is the "perfect single," lacking nothing—cannot get married to him. Marriage necessitates the existence of someone distinct from yourself with whom to share your life, a union of husband and wife. G-d chose the Jewish people as His bride. In this relationship, the bride would reveal the connection between all humanity and G-d.
What a marriage this has been—a roller coaster of romance, affection, quarrel and estrangement. In every generation, many counselors advocated a divorce, while others proclaimed the Groom dead. Yet, the relationship has endured, because both partners know deep down, that they ultimately belong together. When all layers are removed, man yearns for union with G-d and G-d craves for a relationship with man.
According to the Talmud and the Kabbalah. the high-holiday season is the annual re-experience of the marriage between G-d and Israel. The five primary moments of this 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.
In our present day slang we would call this a date.
Just as the conventional dating process allows the two people involved to become aquatinted with each other in a real way, so too the month of Elul provides us with an opportunity to get to know G-d in a genuine and profound way.
The Groom Proposes
G-d is not a fan of drawn out dating, neither is He fearful of commitment. Four weeks later, on the eve of Rosh Hashanah, He makes His proposal. "I'm crazy over you. Will you marry me? is the question communicated to the heart of each of us as the sun sets over the horizon of the year gone by.
This is not an easy decision to make. To be married to G-d is a formidable task. It means to live with continuous self-challenge, discipline and endless mystery. And yet, a whispering voice within persists that if we will avoid this relationship we will deny ourselves the fulfillment and happiness we are capable of achieving in our lives. We were designed to be G-dly human beings.
"Let me sleep on it," we tell G-d.
What a night this is! The world goes haywire, says Master Kabbalist Rabbi Isaac Luriah. "During the night of Rosh Hashanah," he writes, "the consciousness animating the universe becomes very 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 marriage. If we refuse Him, the entire creation was in vain. The entire cosmos—every galaxy, every blade of grass, every grazing animal, every speck of dust—awaits our decision with trepidation.
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, unsophisticated cry, expressing a person’s quintessential 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 (12)."
The marriage ceremony begins with the stirring melody of "Kol Nidrey," 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 that hold us hostage to dysfunction and negativity.
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 too culminates with the Neilah, or closure prayer, so called because as the sun of Yom Kippur sets, the gates of heaven close—with us inside.
During Neilah, 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. Every Jewish family builds a tent, a Sukkah, outdoors, where they celebrate for seven days the marriage 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.
So too, 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 Shmini 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 husband and wife work through the daily grind of life.
Out of the twelve months in the Jewish calendar, the only one lacking a single festive day is the one that immediately follows the High Holiday season. Why? Because this 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, during the mundane days and nights that define the bulk of our life on planet earth.
By Rabbi YY Jacobson