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Yom Kippur: Nine Eleven & Ten

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9/11 and the Number 10

“Ten and not nine. Ten and not eleven” – Sefer Yetzirah 1:4.

Ruminating on the first anniversary of Tuesday September 11, feeling the grief and trauma of my fellow New Yorkers as they and thousands of visitors solemnly gathered at ground zero, I was struck by the fact that this anniversary takes place in midst of the Ten Days of Teshuvah. 9/11 in middle of a period of 10 (days), concluding with the 10th of Tishrei, Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year. Hmm.

Something rings a bell. Where have I heard the numbers nine and eleven before? It then comes to me. In the Sefer Yetzirah (Book of Formation), the oldest Kabbalistic text, attributed to the patriarch Abraham, a cryptic phrase states: “Ten sefirot of nothingness, ten and not nine, ten and not eleven.”

The ten sefirot are the basic building blocks – the spiritual DNA – of all of existence. Exactly ten. Not nine, not eleven. Exactly ten, not more, not less. Precision is critical to all systems. One missing or extra point in a computer program, one deficient or additional cell, can wreak devastating havoc.

9/11 is a day that shook up our entire system, a day that exposed our vulnerabilities and revealed the tenuousness of global stability. What is the single missing ingredient in 9/11 – the tenth dimension – that manifests the events unleashed one year ago on September 11?

Yom Kippur – the tenth day – is that ingredient. Rosh Hashana is the birthday of the universe with the human at the center. The following ten days rebuild the structure of existence, culminating with Yom Kippur, when Moses descends from Sinai with the Second Tablets and the promise of hope even after destruction.

In Kabbalistic language this ten day period is called ‘binyan ha’malchus,’ the building of sovereignty. Psychologically in this period we rebuild human dignity – the essential value and sanctity of every person’s life derived from the fact that each human being is created in the Divine Image.

In the ten days from Rosh Hashana to Yom Kippur, and especially on Yom Kippur, we reaffirm the indispensable nature and inalienable rights of every human being on Earth, by virtue of our connection to G-d, Who chose each of us to fulfill our unique mission.

And it is this Divine ingredient – the dignity of Malchut – that was missing from the demonically distorted religious beliefs of the attackers. Love of G-d is one with love of all people, if for no other reason than them being reflections of the Divine Image.

One can have an elaborate structure of all nine elements – a complete intellectual and emotional system, but if you are missing the tenth dimension, Malchut, everything is compromised.

Malchut also represents the Divine presence within nature and all of existence. At the pinnacle of Yom Kippur – the conclusion of the Neilah prayer – we declare that G-d is One and we repeat seven times that “Hashem hu ha’Elokim.” G-d that transcends all of existence is one with the G-dliness within all of existence.

Religion that believes in a G-d in Heaven but forgets about G-d’s presence on Earth (ten minus one, nine), or annihilates life on Earth (ten plus one, eleven), will be fundamentally bankrupt. Business that  is missing the Divine dimension will ultimately self destruct.

9/11 – and all the events of the past year – remind us that science, politics, economy, every one of our systems, must include the tenth dimension, malchut, for us to survive. This tenth ingredient is the key to our security and future.

Above all, Malchut is distinguished for its bittul. Malchut is the moon, with no light of its own, reflecting the light of the sun. When you shine your own light, you are only as great as you are. You may be very great, but human greatness is always limited, temporary, mortal. When you become a channel that reflects a light greater than your own, when you are dedicated to something beyond yourself, you become greater than yourself. When you dedicate yourself to eternity – and to eternal values – you become eternal.

Before 9/11 Americans and all the world felt that we had it ‘all figured out.’ Our unprecedented prosperity, highest standard of living, sophisticated technology, created an illusion of invulnerability. 9/11 reminded us that we need the tenth truth – Malchut, and the bittul it espouses.

Religion without the dignity and balance of Malchut – without the basic respect for the G-dliness in others – becomes a destructive force. The same is with business.

Don’t cut out the tenth dimension, and don’t add to it. Don’t be too secular and don’t be overly religious. Don’t overindulge in the material and don’t escape into the spiritual.  Balance and integrate the two. Don’t be less or more religious than G-d. Don’t be materially or spiritually arrogant. G-d created a universe and entrusted us with the power to refine and not destroy the material world.

As the deepest part of each of our souls enters the ‘holy of holies’ on Yom Kippur, may we regain our essential dignity/malchut as Divine agents charged with the mission of transforming the universe and creating of it a home for G-d.

Blessings for a year of peace, harmony and redemption.

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