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Three Mystical Dimensions

Bereishit (Genesis 1:1-6:8 )

by Rabbi Abba Wagensberg

Greetings from the holy city of Jerusalem!

The holiday of Sukkot teaches us how to sanctify the three mystical dimensions of reality: Place, Time and Self. Spending time in the Sukkah - a physical location - enables us to sanctify Place.

When we shake the four species, we are involved in sanctifying Self, as the Midrash explains that the four species correspond to the four primary organs of the body. The palm symbolizes the spine; the myrtle leaves are shaped like the eyes; the willow leaves are shaped like the mouth; and the Etrog represents the heart. By shaking these four species together, we are symbolically dedicating our four major organs, as well as the other parts of our body, to God. (Vayikra Rabba 30:14, based on Psalms 35:10)

Finally, the seven-day duration of the holiday corresponds to the seven days of Creation, a span of time during which the entire universe was created. Due to longer davening, Simchat Beit HaSho'eva celebrations, and family gatherings, many of us find ourselves extremely busy during these seven days. Filling our time with purposeful, meaningful activities results in our sanctifying the dimension of Time. Thus, Sukkah, Lulav, and the seven days of Sukkot sanctify the three mystical dimensions of Place, Self, and Time.

This idea helps us understand why we celebrate Sukkot on the 15th of Tishrei, instead of on the 15th of Nissan. In the Talmud, Rebbe Eliezer views our Sukkahs as representing the Clouds of Glory. These Clouds began protecting the Jewish people on the 15th of Nissan, the day we left Egypt. Thus it would seem more logical to celebrate Sukkot at the time of year that the miracle of the Clouds actually occurred!

We could suggest that the Torah moves the celebration to the month of Tishrei because Sukkot provides an ideal foundation upon which to base the new year. Now, in Tishrei, we have the opportunity to carry the message of Sukkot with us into the year. We have the potential to sanctify Place (our homes and workplaces), Self (our bodies and our souls) and Time (through meaningful and productive activities). This is the message that will set the tone for everything that follows.

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We can see a continuation of this idea in Parshat Bereishit, when Adam names his wife Chava (Eve) after she persuades him to eat the forbidden fruit. Why does Adam not name her earlier? Our tradition teaches that, originally, mankind was supposed to live forever. It was only Chava's mistake in the Garden of Eden that resulted in death being brought into the world. According to the Midrash (Bereishit Rabba 17:8), God gave Chava three unique commandments in order to rectify the imperfection of death:

One way of rectifying death is through the mitzvah of challah - separating and destroying a small piece of dough when making bread. Adam is called "the challah of the world," since God formed him from a fistful of earth that was separated from the rest of the ground. Therefore, Chava's actions, which created a flaw in the challah of the world, are rectified through the mitzvah of challah.

Death can also be viewed as a spilling of blood. As a result, blood was destined to spill from Chava every month, and Chava was commanded in the laws of niddah, which forbids intimacy between spouses at this time.

Finally, death can be seen as an extinguishing of light, meaning the soul. A proof to this is found in the Book of Proverbs (20:27), where the verse states, "God's candle is man's soul." To rectify this aspect of death, Chava was commanded to bring light into the world through the kindling of Shabbat candles.

On a deeper level, we can see these three aspects that were damaged - challah, blood, and light - as corresponding to the three dimensions we mentioned earlier. Extinguishing light means extinguishing the soul. On this level, Chava's mistake corresponds to a damaged relationship of SELF. The spilling of blood refers to a damaged relationship of PLACE, since the only place we truly acquire in this world is the place in the ground where we are buried. Chava's mistake caused a potential paradise to be turned into a grave, thereby damaging our relationship to Place.

Finally, the association between Adam and challah brings to mind the only difference between Matzah and leavened bread: TIME. Unlike Matzah, bread is given time to rise. Chava's mistake therefore damaged our relationship to Time. Each mitzvah rectifies one of the three dimensions that she affected.

According to the commentary Beis Yisroel, this idea explains why Adam named his wife Chava only AFTER she convinced him to eat from the forbidden fruit. The name Chava is spelled with the Hebrew letters chet, vav, and hei. These letters are an acronym for CH-allah (dough), V-eset (family purity), and H-adlakat ha-ner (lighting candles). Chava was given her name only after she was given the opportunity to rectify all three dimensions, through her three unique commandments.

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We must realize that Chava was created directly by God. As a result, she was on an extremely high spiritual level. There was no woman in the world as righteous and great as Chava until our matriarch Sarah. According to the Midrash (Bereishit Rabba 60:15), three miraculous signs appeared in Sarah's home for as long as she lived: a special cloud perpetually hovered above her tent, Shabbat candles remained lit until the next Shabbat, and challah remained fresh and warm all week.

These three miraculous occurrences can be seen as corresponding to the three dimensions. The cloud above Sarah's tent represents the dimension of Place. (Our Sukkahs, which signify Place, also represent the Clouds of Glory, as we mentioned.)

The Shabbat candles that remained lit all week represent the dimension of Self. Finally, the challah that stayed fresh and warm represents the dimension of Time, since time is the crucial ingredient that distinguishes between bread and Matzah. We see from here that Sarah was able to sanctify and rectify mankind's relationship to Place, Self and Time.

The miracles that occurred in Sarah's home demonstrate that women have the opportunity to perfect the world in all three dimensions. This is why Sarah, over the course of her life, had several names. Her final name was Sarah (Genesis 17:15); her second-to-last name was Sarai (Genesis 11:30); but her first name was Yiska (Genesis 11:29). Rashi interprets this name to mean, "She looked (socha) with Divine inspiration." The word socha is spelled samech, vav, chaf, hei - the very same letters as the word "Sukkah"! Sarah embodied all the ideas we have discussed regarding Sukkot. She rectified all three dimensions of Place, Time and Self, and thereby brought healing and improvement to the world.

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This idea relates to Hoshana Rabba as well. The Mateh Moses teaches that God's Name "Ehyeh" is the Name that corresponds to this holiday. (This is why Hoshana Rabba always falls out on 21st day of Tishrei. The numerical value of "Ehyeh" is 21). God introduces Himself to Moses at the Burning Bush with the words, "Ehyeh asher Ehyeh" - literally, "I will be that I will be" (Exodus 3:14).

This statement can be interpreted as, "I will be with a person who says, "I will be different.' " In other words, when we commit ourselves to growth and change, God supports us.

God's verse of introduction to Moses concludes with one more expression of Ehyeh: "It was Ehyeh Who sent you to them" (Exodus 3:14). It is not coincidental that the Name Ehyeh is mentioned three times in this passage. We can understand this repetition as God stating His support of people who strive to change themselves in all three dimensions: Place, Time, and Self. Although this idea of rectifying and improving the dimensions is present throughout Sukkot, it reaches its culmination on Hoshana Rabba.

May we succeed in our efforts to sanctify our lives in all three dimensions. May we bring the holiday of Sukkot into our everyday reality by striving throughout the year to have our homes and workplaces express the same sanctity as a Sukkah, to fill the moments of our day with purposeful, meaningful experiences, and to channel our bodies' potential in a holy way, toward the service of God. And may we merit to see with our own eyes the building of Sukkat Dovid HaNofelet - David's fallen Sukkah, the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.

Based on Torat Avot; Netivot Shalom, first ma'amar of Sukkot

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