Fullness and Satiety in the Hollowed Space

Rav Yair Dreifuss • 2018

Thoughts On the Seam Between Tishrei’s Light and the Winter’s Darkness.



Sukkot is a time of fullness and satiety.

The Holiday of Harvest.

Following the judgment of Rosh Hashana – a day of the opening the Books of Life and Death, one which the rabbis liken to the judgment of the day of death – comes Yom Kippur. Yom Kippur is the time of unity, the abundance of purity which comes down upon us. As the Old Admu”r taught, the fear of Yom Kippur is not due to judgment, but rather because of the abundance of grace and purity around us. This awakens a deep fear and anxiety: perhaps we are not worthy of all this good? Maybe we will not know how to contain it?

Afterwards, as Yom Kippur departs, a bat-kol (heavenly voice) emerges and cries: “Go eat your bread in happiness, drink your wine with a good heart, because God has already found your actions desirable” (Ecclesiastes 9:7).

One emerges from this experience purified and at peace – both with God and with himself. Between Yom Kippur and Sukkot, one should be in a place of deep peace within himself, as though to say: “I am who I am, this version of mine is how I am and it is desired by me and by God.”

Indeed, this period is meant to be an introduction to the true, actual enjoyment of a person who is happy with his being, the irreplicable quality of his existence. Sukkot emerges from this mode of thought. The Ariza”l understands the dimensions of the Sukkah – two walls and at least a tefach-long third wall – to embody the gesture of a hug. The embrace of the Shekhina. Our books compare the sukkah to a womb, and residing within it to being in a womb: a breakdown back into the initial, raw materials that precede the faculties of consciousness, a return to the prenatal.

Sitting in the sukkah gave us security and defense – something that’s invisible because these two concepts lack a supporting structure. It is only him and himself, and God. This is the loneliness of one who trusts in God, situated in that hollow space, moving eternally between the fear of “What will be?” and the trust in “Even there, God is to be found.”

One who trusts in God does not try to defend what he has, because he knows he has nothing of substance. He simply lives in the abundance and satiety. Thus we say, again and again, in the days of mercy: “Our Father, Our King, have mercy on us and answer us, for we are without deeds.”

But Sukkot, too, has passed, and so has Simchat Torah. We are poised at the precipice of change: the conclusion of the holidays, treading towards the darkness of a winter routine.

We have two options.

The first option is to stay and wait in the hollow space, knowing – though lacking the certainty and confidence of Sukkot – that the main principle is to maintain the distance with the thinking “I,” which thinks, imagines and tries to somehow control both time and soul.

The second option – which is new to me – is to let go of this position. Instead: to be included in the darkness, its hesitations, anxieties, fears – without trying to hold on to them. To integrate the fear into one’s personal harmony, without trying to “know what will be.” To simply embody the idea: “Leave all to the Lord, trust in him: He will do it” (Psalms 37:5).

From this place, we are asked to introduce a ‘twist’ into the plot of fundamental existential experience of each one of us. In the sod level of ayin-shin-nun (World, Year, Soul) it is to see and relate to the world, to time, to people, as a hollow space (rather than a full and cramped place).


What is the significance of viewing time as hollow space?

The Admu”r HaZaken (author of the Tanya) taught that the secret to understanding the end of the Days of Mercy is “And Jacob went on his path” (Genesis 32:2). Namely: only when the feelings of the days of mercy are done and have passed can something become manifest.

The Chabad tradition has a parable about a person who wanted to see the king in the palace.

At the palace threshold, he fainted and did not meet the king.

A second person entered the front hall and fainted there.

A third person entered even further in and fainted. He did not meet the king.

The explanation: one person seeks the king in Elul and – overcome by excitement that the king is ‘in the garden’ – faints. He does not meet the king. The second person gets to Rosh Hashana, the third to Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Hoshana Raba – but none of these people meet the king.

Where then is the king?

The Admu”r HaZaken teaches that the king is hidden in the darkness of Mar Cheshvan, a time when we return to our routine lives, daily difficulties, the bleakness and banality of the winter. In doing so, the Admu”r HaZaken reveals a powerful secret. The Days of Mercy seem like a very full space: feelings, prayers, synagogue services, meals, family – a crowding of encounters and events related to teshuva.

Despite their benefits, all of these things blur and conceal the present, very real ‘hollow’ spaces in time. We cannot stay in the emotions and insights of those days, holding on to them with a desperate hope – for they will disappear in moments. On the contrary: there is a need for a full release, liberation and a deep trust that the king is indeed hidden, in concealment – and it is precisely in that darkest hiding that God can be found.

The gesture required here is this: we must pull the lights of the days of mercy – which seem like such filled-up space – into the ‘black hole’ of time, into the empty space of the seemingly dark, plain days of Mar Cheshvan.

The Admu”r uses the verse “Many waters cannot quench love” (Song of Songs 8:7) – “many waters” are the difficulties of day-to-day life. The sparks of ‘love’ – the hidden revelations deeply buried in the figure, with their root in the revelation of the Days of Mercy, that sink into the thickness of the figure, illuminating the bleak face of routine. In the liminal twilight zone between the light of Tishrei and the gray bleakness of Mar Cheshvan we are called to release – to trust that real, tangible life lies in that very same hollow space that seems so dark and threatening.

In the seam line between the illuminated Tishrei holidays and the draining routine of the day-to-day, one is able to adjust to seeing the world not as a crowded, full mass, but as an empty space.

The world is full of noise, seemingly crowded with sounds, sights, insults and events, intensity of work – an impenetrable schedule. The electronic calendar is a good example of this.

We must all try to put small changes into place.

I think that the first step in this direction is to liberate ourselves a little bit from our entanglement in the Web and networks, smartphones, etc. We perceive a dense, full world – yet it is an illusion created when we are surrounded 24/6 by constant notifications, beeps and screens.  A small, light move away from this is enough to realize that the ‘fullness’ is an imagined fiction – full of nothing.

I am reminded of the blind beggar (the first of the seven beggars in Rav Nachman’s story): “You think that I am blind, yet I see more than all of you.” So, too, the deaf one, who says that he hears more than anyone else.

Bombarded by visuals and images, we can no longer see.

In this abundance of noise, we hear nothing.

Each one of us has the option to let go, at least a little, of this impression of the world a filled, crowded space.

For God is hidden in the empty, hollow space that remains in the hidden background. One can stay there for a little while, the more one releases himself from the notion of “must.”

This is also the case with regard to the basic existential experience that begins from rising in the morning.

To let go, to loosen up, to release.

Before we return to our habits that fix the attitude of “everything’s in control” – a packed, overflowing calendar – we should do some yoga, feel the contact between our feet and the ground (both literally and metaphorically). We must allow ourselves a meditative moment of insightful observation, with patience: to know the secret of the breath, of “And He blew the breath of life into him.” (Genesis 2:7)

אֱ-לֹ-הֵינו וֵא-לֹ-הֵי אֲבוֹתֵינוּ

בְּגִשְמֵי אוֹרָה . תָּאִיר אֲדָמָה: בְּגִשְמֵי בְרָכָה . תְּבָרֵךְ אֲדָמָה:

בְּגִשְמֵי גִילָה . תָּגִיל אֲדָמָה: בְּגִשְמֵי דִיצָה . תְּדַשֵּן אֲדָמָה:

בְּגִשְמֵי הוֹד . תְּהַדֵּר אֲדָמָה: בְּגִשְמֵי וַעַד טוֹב. תְּוַעֵד אֲדָמָה:

בְּגִשְמֵי זִמְרָה. תְּזַמֵּר אֲדָמָה: בְּגִשְמֵי חַיִים . תְּחַיֶה אֲדָמָה:

בְּגִשְמֵי טוֹבָה. תֵּטִיב אֲדָמָה: בְּגִשְמֵי יְשוּעָה. תּוֹשִיעַ אֲדָמָה:

בְּגִשְמֵי כַלְכָּלָה. תְּכַלְכֵּל אֲדָמָה:

אָנָּא הוֹרִידֵם לְאוֹרָה. לִבְרָכָה. לְגִילָה. לְדִיצָה. לְהוֹד. לְוַעַד טוֹב. לְזִמְרָה. לְחַיִּים טֹובִים. לְטוֹבָה. לִישוּעָה. לְפַרְנָסָה וּלְכַלְכָּלָה. כְּמוֹ שֶאַתָּה הוּא ה’ אֱ-לֹ-הֵינוּ רַב לְהוֹשִיעַ. מַשִּׁיב הָרוּחַ וּמוֹרִיד הַגֶּשֶׁם לִבְרָכָה [מתוך תפילת גשם נוסח עדות המזרח].

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