Getting Back to Basics

Rabbi Wagensberg
Shmini Atzeres - Simchas Torah
Getting Back to Basics

Sometimes we wonder how it all began. When we look at our current situation, we ask, "What can we do to make it better?" In the following paragraphs we will discuss how an ending should reflect the beginning, before things get out of hand.

There are four Holidays in the month of Tishrei. They are: Rosh HaShanah, Yom Kippur, Succos (Hoshanah Rabbah is part of Succos), and Shemini Atzeres. The Arizal ((Sha'ar HaKavanos, Rosh HaShanah, Derush Aleph) says that there is a connection between all of them. He says that they all come to atone for one sin and one sin only. That is, the first sin that Man ever committed; eating from the Eitz Hada'as (The Tree of Knowledge).

God began creating the world on the twenty-fifth day of Elul. This means that on the first Erev Shabbos (Friday), when Adam HaRishon (The First Person) was created, it was the first day of Tishrei. On that day, God commanded Adam not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge and on that very same day, Adam transgressed (Pesikta, #23, Rebbi Eliezer; See Ran, Rosh HaShanah, chap. 1, "Arba'a Roshei Shanim", pg. 16a, pg. 3a of the Ran's pagination, "B'Rosh HaShanah").

Since the first of Tishrei is Rosh HaShanah, it turns out that Adam sinned on Rosh HaShanah. On that day God brought Adam to trial and on that day Adam was acquitted. God said to Adam that since the first of Tishrei was used as a day of judgment for him, it would remain a day of judgment for all of his descendants. Just as Adam was acquitted on that day, so would his descendants be acquitted on that day.

The Arizal (Parshas Ha'azinu) says that there is more to this Midrash than meets the eye. He says that it's not just because Adam was judged on the first of Tishrei that we are all judged on that day. Rather, we are all judged on Rosh HaShanah for our participation in the sin of the Eitz Hada'as.

You see, when God created Adam, all of our souls were part of his soul, forming one huge soul. So, when the sin presented itself before Adam, there were many voices and opinions going on inside of him. Since Adam sinned, we are all to blame. It was not so much Adam's spark that sinned, as much as it was the rest of our sparks that either pushed Adam into it or did not protest strong enough against it. We are all collectively guilty for the sin of the Eitz Hada'as.

Since that sin occurred on Rosh HaShanah, every single year, on the day of that sin's anniversary, we are all judged again. Since rebellion was at the root of that sin, God analyzes whether or not we still have that streak of rebelliousness within us. The sign which indicates that we are truly remorseful is when we cause a shift in our thinking to become "Yes People" in following God's decrees, whether or not we

like it and whether or not we understand it.

We do not only have Rosh HaShanah to atone for the Eitz Hada'as, but we also have Yom Kippur. However, if we did not achieve atonement on the High Holidays, then we still have another chance on Hoshanah Rabbah to repair the damage that was caused.

Now, Hoshanah Rabbah is the twenty-first day since Rosh HaShanah. This is important to know, as we will see right now.

Once upon a time, God told Avraham that one of God's names is "Eheyeh". This name is one which represents kindness and compassion. The numerical value of "Eheyeh" is 21. God went on to tell Avraham that Avraham was the 21st generation since Adam HaRishon. Avraham also represents kindness and compassion. Since the number 21 represents kindness, God told Avraham, that He was going to give his descendants the 21st day from Rosh HaShanah, Hoshanah Rabbah, as a day of kindness and compassion to finally atone for the sin of the Eitz Hada'as (Mateh Moshe, Inyan HoShanah Rabbah, # 957, citing a Midrash).

Of what relevance is it to be given the 21st day as an atonement? We are about to find out.

The Shvilei Pinchas says that when we sinned with the Eitz Hada'as, the 22 letters of the Holy Hebrew alphabet were ruined. By definition this means that the Torah itself was damaged by the sin because the Torah is composed of the 22 letters. In turn, all of creation was hurt by the sin because all creations are outgrowths of the Torah, as HaShem looked into the Torah in order to create all things.

Now, when we say that the 22 letters were stained by the sin, we have to modify what we mean, because there is one letter that cannot be negatively affected by sin. That letter is the Aleph, because the Aleph represents God. We can see this by spelling out the letter Aleph. It requires three letters, and they are: Aleph, Lamed, and Fay. When the vowels are changed, these three letters spell the word "Aluph" (chief). This represents God who is given the title of "Alupho Shel Olam" (Chief in Command of the World).

Just like God could never be damaged, neither could the Aleph ever be hurt. So, what did we mean when we said that the 22 letters were harmed by the sin? It really means to say that 21 of the letters (from the Bais to the Tuf) drifted from the Aleph. By definition, this means that all of creation, which was created by the letters, drifted from The Aleph, Alupho Shel Olam, God. This means that we, who are also creatures that were formed from the letters, drifted from Alupho Shel Olam.

Such is the effect of sin. It created barriers, partitions, and iron curtains between us and God. Therefore, God gave us 21 days from Rosh HaShanah until Hoshanah Rabbah in order to fix the situation. During each of the 21 days, we are supposed to work on rectifying one of the letters. We go in reverse order, first working on the Taf, then on the Shin, and then on the Raish, and so on.

Perhaps we could suggest that this is the reason why this month is called "Tishrei". It is because "Tishrei" is spelled first with a Taf, then with a Shin, and then with a Raish. The letters go backwards teaching us that we must rectify those letters in that order. The last letter in "Tishrei" is a Yud. The letter Yud often represents God. This hints to us that we must bring the letters closer to God. This means to bring all of creation, including ourselves, closer to God.

I was thinking about what it means to work on a letter a day. Maybe we could propose that each day we should focus on working on what that letter stands for. For example, The Taf stands for Teshuvah (repentance), the Kuf can be pronounced as Kofe (a monkey), teaching us to not just copy what we see other people do in their service to God, but make it real and meaningful. The fay can be pronounced as feh (or Peh; a mouth) reminding us to work on our speech. The Ayin means an eye prompting us to keep our eyes holy, etc...

By the time we reach Hoshanah Rabbah, all the letters, from the Tuf to the Bais, should be reconnected to the Aleph. This is why on the next day, Shemini Atzeres, we dance with the Torah celebrating Simchas Torah (in Eretz Yisrael). One of the reasons we are happy is because all 22 letters are rectified, which means that the Torah itself, which is made up of those letters, is mended. Deep down we know that this means that we are also so close to God. This knowledge and feeling causes us to burst forth with song and dance.

We are reminded of all of this when we start the new cycle with Bereishis. The Torah starts with a Bais, not with an Aleph. This is because the Aleph (representing God) is beyond this world. Any mistakes we make this time around, can only hurt the letters from the Bais and on. The Aleph, on the other hand, remains unscathed.

As we mentioned, distance between the 21 letters and the Aleph and between creation and Alupho Shel Olam, can be created through sin. But, as long as we connect ourselves to those letters through Torah study, we are always given another chance of bridging the gap.

We can keep this idea in mind the whole year round with the following exercise. Each morning, let us verbally say the entire Aleph Bais. Afterwards, let's say that we want to bring the letters, creation, and ourselves closer to the Aleph, Alupho Shel Olam, by staying away from sin and through the study of Torah. This may help channel each day to the correct service of God.

So, may we, the descendants of Adam, all be blessed to atone for the Eitz Hada'as, bringing the 21 letters back to the Aleph, so that we experience oneness with God this Shmini Atzeres and this Shabbos Bereishis, and this entire year.