Excerpt from "Cosmology of the Jewish Holy Days" Rabbi Bakst z"l
Rosh HaShana literally means "Head (beginning) of the year." Rosh HaShana is the day on which the whole world is judged both collectively and as individuals. Different reasons are given for the day of judgment concept. In addition on Rosh HaShana we blow a ram’s horn, as it is written: "Yom Teru'ah yih'yeh lachem," "a day of teru'ah (sounding the horn) should be to you." On Rosh HaShana the whole world – Jews and non-Jews alike – are “signed” into the cosmic “Book of Life.” What is the esoteric
pshat (explanation) of this “Book,” what is the purpose of the sound of the shofar, and what is the significance of the judgment that is occurring?
Ten days following Rosh HaShana is Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, the most sacred day of the year. On Yom Kippur the whole world is “sealed” in the “Book of Life” or in the “Book of Death”.
On Yom Kippur, aside from observing the regular restrictions that Shabbat carries with it, there are five additional restrictions. It is forbidden to:
Eat and drink
Wash one's self
Anoint one's self
Wear leather shoes,
Engage in marital relations.
What is the esoteric purpose of the “sealing,” what is the role of these five restrictions, and what is the spiritual root of the sacredness of this day? And why does Yom Kippur begin with Kol Nidrai, the most famous prayer service in Judaism, which ostensibly, Kol Nidrai seems to have no direct connection to the concept of Yom Kippur and atonement?
The ten days between Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur (including Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur) are known as the Aseret Y’may T’shuva – the Ten Days of Repentance, which culminate in Yom Kippur.
Why are there specifically 10 days? An anomaly that has not received its due explanation is that on the third day of the Ten Days following Rosh HaShana is one of the four fast days (not including Yom Kippur) – the Fast of Gedalya ben Ahikam – that has no apparent connection to Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur, aside from a short Talmudic historical note (with later commentaries) exhorting us to do teshuva.
What is a fast day doing in the middle of “the sign and the seal”? Four days after Yom Kippur the festival of Sukkot begins, on the 15th day of Tishrey. Sukkot is characterized by the unique commandment of dwelling in Sukkot - temporary, hut-like dwellings, as the Torah says in Vayikra (23: 42-43) "In booths you are to dwell for seven days ...so that your generations will know that I caused the children of Israel to dwell in booths when I took them from the land of Egypt...." A glaring anomaly is why does Sukkot come immediately after Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur?
It is well known that the historical first Sukkot – the canopy (sukkot) of the Clouds of Glory surrounding the Israelites while traveling in the desert - occurred not in the fall of Tishrey but in the spring month of Nissan following the Exodus from Egypt. Although homiletic explanations are given for this incongruency we must still apply the rule that “No verse (or statement) can be divorced from its literal meaning.”
Fundamentally, why is Sukkot attached to Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur? There is another commandment also unique to Sukkot - the commandment to take the Four Species. In Vayikra (23:40) the verse says, "And you shall take for yourself on the first day the fruit of a goodly tree, branches of palm trees, the boughs of thick trees, and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before HaShem your G-d for seven days." The Talmud  explains the verse as follows: the "fruit of a goodly tree is an Etrog (citron); the branch of the palm tree is the Lulav; the "boughs of thick trees" are Hadasim (myrtle); and, the "willows of the brook" are Aravot (willow branches). No logical explanation is given in the Talmud and Midrash for this ritual of waving of the Lulav and the other three plant species, which is performed on all seven days of Sukkot. A singular reason is given in the Talmud – “To ward off bad rain and ill winds” – which is insufficient and mysterious at best.
Throughout the works of our Sages, we find that the festival of Sukkot is referred to as Zman Simchateinu - The time of our happiness. Many wonderful reasons are given for this mode of joy that is unique to Sukkot, but what is the source of this unique mode of joy and its connection to the mitzvah of Sukkah and the Four Species ?
Everyday during the morning minyan, in addition to the ritual of the shaking of the Lulav, a circuit is made around the bima where the Sefer Torah is held upright by an individual. This “dance” around the Sefer Torah while each person holds the Lulav and Etrog is known as a Hakafah (circuit). The only explanation accessible is that it represents a similar ritual that took place in the Temple of Jerusalem when it stood. But, this begs the question: what is the purpose of the Hakafah?
On the seventh day of Sukkot known as Hoshanah Rabba seven Hakafot are made culminating in the beating of five Aravot (separate willows from the two that are part of the Lulav and Etrog set) on the floor. The strange custom of the beating of the Aravot (willows) on the ground during Hoshanah Rabba explicitly has no explanation other than it being “an ancient tradition from the prophets which meaning is only known to the kabbalists.”
Hoshanah Rabba has a number of unique rituals associated with it that many, especially the kabbalists, are very careful to observe. It is considered a “miniature” Yom Kippur when our souls receive the second and final “seal” in the “Book of Life (or Death)” that was signed on Rosh HaShana and initially sealed on Yom Kippur. There is still time to change the decree even until the next day. Even though one’s destiny is calculated for the new year the signed and sealed “letter” is not “delivered” into the hands of judgment and retribution until the 8th day.
Because of this there is an ancient custom to wear all white, stay up all night, recite selichot (special supplications said early morning prior to Rosh HaShana and up until the morning of Yom Kippur) and study sections of the Kabbalah. That night begins another Yom Tov called Shemini Atzeret – literally meaning the Eighth Concluding [Day].
What is taking place on the eighth day of Sukkot, the 22nd day of this whole sequence? It is a separate Chag (holiday) by itself, yet there is no longer the mitzvah of the Sukkah, nor of the four species. There is no ritualistic “prop” such as a shofar or matza nor any special activity such as learning Torah or doing anything other than observing the Yom Tov and having the regular festive meals.
The only thing that is unique about Shemini Atzeret is that in the Morning Prayer service we begin to insert the special prayer for rain. How does this tie into the first day of Rosh HaShana? There is something else going on and it is extremely well hidden along with the entire 22 day period. What appears to be the 9th and last day of Sukkot, and what in the Diaspora is the "second" day of Shemini Atzeret, is also called Simchat Torah, literally "the joy of/over Torah."
Simchat Torah is the day we complete the cycle of the 52 parshiyot (weekly portions) of the Torah by reading the final parasha known as "V'zot HaBeracha." Ostensibly, Simchat Torah simply marks the renewal of the cycle as we begin again with the first parasha in the Torah "Be'raishiet." We dance seven circuits around the Bima this time with individuals holding all the Torah scrolls. But, it may be asked, how is Simchat Torah directly connected to Rosh HaShana, Yom Kippur and Sukkot and why are we continuing the hakafot that we began on the first day of Sukkot?
Rosh HaShana thus begins a spiritual marathon that last 22 days . (Rosh HaShana to Yom Kippur = 10 days + 4 days till Sukkot + 7 days of Sukkot + 1 day of Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah = 22). Although hundreds of midrashim and later commentators up till this day have shown a psychospiritual progression between these two great festival periods an intrinsic cosmological connection is still not apparent.
What is the missing link between the Yamim Noraim (Days of Awe) and Sukkot? Something has been signed, sealed and delivered, yet well concealed from public and even scholarlyeyes. The sages, following suit of the Torah itself, have ingeniously camouflaged and protected the inner story of Rosh HaShana. Hidden away in the Zohar and in the kabbalah of the Arizal the code to this story unfolds. It is a drama so mind boggling that it takes the Days of Awe to a new level of awesomeness. It will be obvious why the inside story of Signed, Sealed and Delivered has been concealed and “The one who understands will understand.”
Even still, the sod of these 22 days wears the pshat and the halacha of the festivals like a perfectly fitting glove and it is these hands of God that embrace us. “His left hand is beneath my head and his right hand embraces me” Shaar HaKavanot (Gate of Mystical Intentions) of the Arizal has lengthy chapters on Rosh HaShana, Yom Kippur and Sukkot which, in turn, are all based on the voluminous Eitz Chaim (Tree of Life), the magum opus of Lurianic Kabbalah.
What follows is only a bare bones overview of the esoteric mechanics running through this 22 day period. A fundamental difference that strikes us in the teachings of the Ari zal is that the essence of these festivals is not primarily about teshuva and atonement. As we will see, teshuva and atonement are required but only as by-products and an incredible means towards an unbelievable end.
A verse from the Song of Songs encapsulates this entire period and process. “His left hand is beneath my head and his right hand embraces me”. The left hand is the left side of the gevurot and this represents the Ten Days. The right hand is the right side of the process and this is represented in the seven days of Sukkot culminating in the union on the eight day. First the left side of the process will be outlined and then the right side will be presented.. Although it is common knowledge that Rosh HaShana is the birthday of the world this phenomenon is just one of the many points of interest that are lost in the kaleidoscope of the Days of Awe.
Actually, it is Adam and Eve that are being created on Rosh HaShana, Genesis having begun five days before. Rosh HaShana is the sixth day of creation. Now, it is a fundamental tradition that every Chag is a microcosm of the original 24 hour period that it is replicating over again. Thus, Rosh HaShana is literally recreating over the entire creation process of Adam and Hava (Eve). This fact is the beginning, middle and end of virtually everything that is occurring not only on Rosh HaShana but also on Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah. The creation or rather the re-creation of Adam and Eve and their culmination in physical and spiritual union is the hidden key to the 22 days.
“God created Man in His image, in the image of God He created him: male and female He created them . And HaShem cast a deep sleep (tardayma, cognate with the English dormant) upon the man and he slept; and He took one of his sides and He filled in flesh in its place. Then HaShem God fashioned the [left] side that He had taken from the man into a woman, and He brought her to the man .”
Although all these events are literal we must keep in mind that they are occurring in a higher dimension totally transcendent from our present reality that is long after the “Fall” or dimensional collapse of Adam and Hava. Adam and Hava, the masculine and feminine aspects of Divinity, were originally manifested “back to back”. (This was for reasons that cannot be spelled out here). They had to go through a process of separation known as the n’sirah – “division”, turned around and then, face to face,
engage in divine union.
The union, just as it occurs with earthly man and woman, is preceded by a period of arousal and stimulation hibuk and nishuk- hugging and kissing. This was the purpose of their creation and is included in the mitzvah of “be fruitful and multiply”. Now, Adam and Hava should have waited until Friday night – the first Shabbat -- to perform this great mitzvah of unification and crucial act of tikkun. Their grave miscalculation (for reasons that cannot be spelled out here) is actually part of the sin (error) of the eating of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, i.e., “Biblical knowing”.
Because it was attempted prematurely their union and all of its consequences became contaminated. The only rectification is that over a period of some 6,000 years every New Year beginning with Rosh HaShana the tardayma, the n’sirah and the reconstruction of Eve –the feminine aspect of the Adam – are literally repeated over again. Only now the process, instead of occurring within an hour (of Adamic time) is now “stretched” out over a period of 22 days.
“From my flesh I will behold God”  i.e., human reality is a mirror and metaphor for the divine realm. The human form is a sefirotic structure reflecting the ten emanations within the ten sections of the body. Dinah says: Know this!
The original n’sirah/division between Adam, the masculine and Adam, the feminine took place in ten stages as each stage was a distinct sefira being separated from itself. What took place almost instantly in Gan Eden before the fall must now take place over a period of ten days.
Each of the ten days is the division of the singular masculine/feminine soul into a separate male and female. The feminine aspect of Keter from the masculine aspect of Keter, the feminine aspect of Chochma from the masculine aspect of Chochma and so on. This is the literal meaning of “tzaila” (mistranslated for millennia as “rib”) --
it is actually an “edge” or “side” i.e., the feminine edge of Adam (known in Kabbalah as the gevurot”) that runs the length of the body from the head/keter to the reproductive center/malchut and the feet.
The nesira is actually an operation and a very dangerous and volatile one at that. Not only does the masculine aspect of Divinity go into a cosmic slumber thus temporally suspending its mitigating affect (known as the Hasadim) on the feminine elements in the world, but the feminine element is exposed. This creates a paradoxical situation: This powerful and potentially destructive primordial energy is released into the world and yet it is also simultaneously vulnerable to spiritual infection.
This is where the shofar comes in. Its affect is two fold: One, the sound of the shofar causes the slumbering masculine Adam (the Hasadim) who has gone into a temporary state of tardayma/sleep to reawaken and secondly, the harsh, constricting sound (“din” --both in Hebrew and in English!) of the ram’s horn helps mitigate and sweeten the feminine energies (the gevurot) that have been released during the “operation”.
This last process is based on the principle that “dinim and gevurot are only sweetened in their root”, i.e. din with din, tempered with temper, fire with fire. The final n’sirah and “re-constructive surgery” to create her reproductive organs takes place in the
malchut, the 10th day which is Yom Kippur.
In order to do this the feminine aspect of Adam (Eve as the embodiment of the Shechina) must be elevated to the realm of the Divine Mother (Binah). The “lower” feminine is absorbed into the “higher” feminine in order to receive the essence of her true femininity. The two females are alluded to in the Torah name for Yom Kippur – Yom HaKippurim, i.e. two kippurim. Her malchut is cosmically “stamped”, “fashioned” and “imprinted” in the mystery of the Divine Female.
This imprint is the chotem, the sealing that takes place on Yom Kippur and is reflected in the expression we greet each other with “G’mar Chatima Tova” – May you have a good “sealing [in the Book of Life]”.
We can also begin to appreciate that the Books of Life and Death that are “opened” during the Ten Days are none other than the Sefirot that make up the cosmic body of the supernal Adam and Eve. It is well known that Sefirot are also referred to as sefarim (books).
“Life’ and “Death” are simply the two sides of the Hasadim and gevurot that are opened and exposed during this period for the ultimate purpose of making the tikkun for the “fall’ of Adam. Our teshuva is required because the forces of din and the gevurot are temporally released and they react “measure for measure” (uncompromising “karma”). You don’t want to get in their way but it is unavoidable and the entire world is “judged”.
Dinah says: Whether the world knows it or not all of creation, including the nations, is being judged along with Israel.
Paradoxically, it is also our very teshuva that helps fuel the process of the dormita, n’sirah and reawaking of Adam as well as the reconstruction and fashioning of the divine female. Every utterance of “al hait….” – “For the sin we have committed by…“ adds another log onto the cosmic fire of the divine Flames of Love.
By the end of n’iela (“closing” [of the gates of her malchut]), the fifth and final service of Yom Kippur the lower female has received all her “parts” and her structure from top to bottom is complete. Now, during the four intermediate days until Sukkot Adam and Eve are “turned around” to face each other and the second stage begins – the arousal that culminates in the cosmic union of man and woman, heaven and earth, Creator with creation.
Gmar hatimah tovah, from our community at the Adamic Center of Waco!