Hemshech Tzadek-Dalet Part II
With the financial markets shaking so many people to the
core, the holiday of Sukkot comes as a powerful reminder
about the mercurial nature of our securities. It teaches
us the critical need to diversify our portfolios so that
they include a dimension sadly often forgotten: Our families,
loves and sublime experiences – the spiritual reality
that is the only solid, unwavering bedrock foundation we
can always depend upon.
But how do we free ourselves from our deeply entrenched
perspectives? How do we break our addiction to the markets
and perceived dependence on money, and allow another reality
to enter our lives?
A powerful Chassidic discourse can help unshackle us. To
honor the 75th anniversary of the classic Chassidic
series “Hemshech Tzaddik-dalet,” delivered by
the Rebbe Yosef Yitzchak on Rosh Hashana 1933, last column
began a summary and review of the major themes of this profound
dissertation, which deconstructs existence to its core.
This (unfinished) series consists of nine discourses and
thirty-three chapters: The first five delivered on Rosh
Hashana, Shabbos Shuva, Yom Kippur night, Sukkot and Shemini
Atzeret respectively. The final four delivered on Shabbos
Parshat Noach, Lech Lecho, Chayei Sarah and Toldot.
Accordingly, this week’s entry will address the themes
of the first three discourses. And their connection to the
holiday season, as we are about to enter the festival of
* * *
The poetry of the High Holidays is quite exquisite. Beneath
its technical surface an unmistakable melodic arrangement
defines the underlying structure of the holiday-filled month
The first half of the month begins with days of awe: Rosh
Hashana and Yom Kippur. Followed by the Sukkot days of joy
in the second half of the month, when the moon grows full.
Awe and joy are two vital ingredients in every healthy
experience; two necessary components in every successful
Awe – a combination of reverence, wonder and modesty –
respects the mystique of life. But awe alone keeps us at
a distance from the experience. Joy brings the experience
close and makes it intimate as we celebrate our relationship.
Both our relationship with the Divine and our personal
relationships (which is meant to reflect our bond with the
Divine) require a balance between awe and joy: We must always
feel a profound respect for the other, lest we become arrogant
and controlling. Yet, love also means that you feel close
and connected with your beloved.
For love and intimacy to be complete it needs the same
interplay between warmth and reserve, closeness and space,
familiarity and mystery.
Thus, the parameters of the holiday season, which is all
about building relationships between us and G-d and between
each other, begin with the days of awe (Rosh Hashana and
Yom Kippur) and conclude with days of joy (Sukkot).
Awe is transcendence. Through awe of a reality beyond our
limited selves we are able to reach to a place beyond our
own mortal boundaries. Think of an awesome sight that gave
you a glimpse to a picture far greater than one you could
ever have imagined. As a teenager, I, for example, remember
spending a number of summer nights observing the relentless
waves crashing against the shore. All night long I would
stand and watch with amazement the unfathomable power of
the sea, as wave after wave after wave, would come in, never
sleeping, unstoppable. It taught me about power that is
beyond us all. It gave me a taste of the infinite.
Joy is integration, allowing us to assimilate powerful
experiences. After standing in awe before the Divine on
Rosh Hashana a Yom Kippur, we then dance and sing for seven,
eight, nine days of Sukkot through Shemini Atzeret and Simchat
These two elements are also featured in the mitzvah of
Sukkot, when we dwell in makeshift huts with a vulnerable
flora roof, in which we are eat all our meals and conduct
all the activities of the day which we regularly would do
One of the personal lessons of spending an entire week
in a Sukkah instead of in our comfortable homes is to remind
us of the temporal nature of existence. The material world
is not our home. We must never succumb to the illusion that
our man-made structures and mortal edifices are our natural
environments. Corporeal life is a means, a road that leads
us to a deeper, higher reality. The transitory Sukkah reminds
us that we are just travelers in this impermanent material
world; we are spiritual beings on a material journey, not
material beings on a spiritual journey.
Yet, while the Sukkah lifts us to a higher awareness, we
also sit within it, allowing its four walls to embrace us
with its surrounding presence. BaSukkot Taishvu, we settle
in and internalize the Sukkah experience. Awe and joy fused
* * *
As discussed in the previous column,
Hemshech Tzaddik-Dalet dissects the very nature
of existence, indeed, the very nature of reality itself.
In a meticulous fashion, in a style unique to Chassidic
discourses, the Rebbe RaYatz (an acronym for Rabbi Yosef
Yitzchak) deconstructs all of reality into three stages,
which he calls Yesh, Ayin, Yesh,
literally: being, non-being, being, or itness, nothingness,
These three Hebrew words can be translated many ways, with
various interpretations, as shall be discussed later in
this series, but overall they reflect three stages of every
process: The beginning point, the middle, in between step,
and the end point, the destination.
In effect, every process is a state of transmission. This
is true for the entire cosmic order – a metamorphosis
from one state of being to another. Every transmission begins
with a transmitter. On the other end of the spectrum is
the receiver. And in between is an intermediate state that
connects the two. As it with every transmission, the entire
essence of the transmitter cannot be carried over to the
recipient. Only a small amount is passed on. Take a teacher
and a student as an example. Only a reflection of the teacher’s
mind can be transmitted to the student. This “reflection”
– the channel that connects teacher to student –
is therefore called “ayin,” a state of “non-being,”
like a void or a vacuum, where the metamorphosis takes place
transforming one state of begin into another.
All processes consist of these three states. A seed must
decompose in the ground before it sprouts. An idea must
go through a state of confusion before it develops into
a full-blown theory. Creativity is a child of frustration:
The greater the creation the more frustration that precedes
it. A piece of gold must be melted in order to shape it
into a beautiful ornament. To grow a new layer of skin the
previous one needs to be shed. A structure is razed before
another can replace it. We must lose ourselves before we
find ourselves. Another way of defining these three stages
is: consciousness, non-consciousness and a new consciousness.
As long as the initial state remains intact, another one
cannot be born. Thus the need for the “ayin”
The ultimate root of these three stages is in the Divine
process of creation:
The first yesh is the Yesh Ha’Amiti.
The first and only true state of being is the Divine Essence,
which exists because it must exist. Reality
is real because it is real; its’ reality generates
from within: it exists because it exists. All existence
as we know it, both material and even spiritual, has no
true validity of its own. Nothing dictates that matter or
spirit must exist. And even when they do exist, their entire
being has no self-contained power; it is driven entirely
by Divine energy. The only true Reality is the Divine Essence
of all. In the words of the Tanya (Iggeret HaKodesh ch.
20): Everything has a cause. But G-d has no cause other
than Himself; nothing preceded Him; His being derives from
His own self. G-d’s existence must exist,
for it is true reality. Since all existence as we understand
the term has a “cause” and is not self-contained,
the “existence” of the Essence of Reality is
an existence that is unlike any existence, “a non-existential
On the other end of the spectrum is the yesh ha’nivra,
existence as we know it. And in between these two states
of being and reality (the first yesh and the last
yesh) comes an Ayin, an intermediary stage
of light/ energy that connects and carries a reflection
of the Divine reality into our perceived reality.
The plot thickens. In truth, the created yesh
is rooted in the Divine yesh, as explained in Tanya:
Only a Reality that has no source can create a reality,
our self-contained existence, which does not feel that it
has a source. But in our closed “bubble” we
only perceive our own beings (yesh), with no clue
to the forces that shape us.
All that we know about existence and reality is limited
to our myopic vision and subjective perspective. For us
humans to being getting a glimpse of a higher reality we
need to retrace the steps and enter the state of ayin
– a state of bittul, modesty, humility and suspension
of self, which allows us to transcend ourselves and our
self-contained perceptions, only exacerbated by our self-interest.
Through the ayin we reach beyond ourselves and
bridge our reality with the Ultimate Divine Reality, to
the point that our yesh can fuse with the Yesh
* * *
As we begin a new year and are moving from the awe of Rosh
Hashana and Yom Kippur to the loving embrace of Sukkot,
it’s a good time to reassess our perspective on reality.
As long as you are trapped by your own “box”
and “structure” – your past experiences
and baggage – it will be extremely difficult, if not
impossible, to move forward and expect new experiences.
Even if they were to be showered with all the blessings
there would be no place for them to manifest in a crowded
box that is your life.
Thus the meditations ofTzaddik-Dalet are a powerful
way to step back, rise above and look down with a birds’
eye view on life, on our expectations and on future possibilities.
To sum it up in one line: Through bittul we connect with
the ultimate reality, never to return the same.