THE MIRACLE OF BIRTH
by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman
Gazing lovingly down at their newborn, the new parents have arranged the nursery, the crib, and all the accoutrements thereof. So too, Hashem is gazing lovingly down at Israel through the roof of the supernal sukkah. As much as for the comfort and reassurance that *we* need to be able to look up at the stars to see through the schach which constitutes the roof, *Hashem* needs to look down and gaze lovingly at us, his children. The four walls are like the protective walls of the crib, and all the decorations are like baubles and hanging toys for the infant. Just as we are newly born on Sukkoth, having passed through the Yom Kippur mini-dying and resouling chamber, the people of Israel now are passed from the loving care of Moshe Rabbeinu to the waiting hands of Yehoshua. On Yom Kippur we were resouled, purified. But now having been cleansed, we await the ensoulment into a new body, as it were, as we become collectively reborn on Sukkot. The Ushpizin, the Exalted Guests, come to visit, bringing gifts for the newborn babe.
In the Talmud, Massechet Niddah, 30B, it is said that an angel teaches us the entire Torah in the womb (which we then forget at birth), and that we are not born until we swear to always live a righteous life. In all of parshat Ha'azinu, Moshe is enjoining the people to swear to be righteous and loyal to Hashem. Moshe Rabbeinu is likened to that very malach, that self-same angel, but on the macro level, vis a vis the nation of Israel."
No other prophet has arisen in Israel who knew G*d face to face(Deut.34:10)." And in Numbers 12:8 it states: "with him (Moses) I speakface to face..." And in Exodus 33:11 it states, " G*d would speak to Moses face to face (panim el panim), just as a person speaks to a close friend." Now this must mean that in a sense he was akin to an angel, being that he was without food or water on Mount Sinai for forty days and nights, and that"no man may see my face and live - lo tuchal lirot et panai ki lo yirani ha'adam vachai (ibid 20)."
And of course, like the angel in the womb, it was Moses who taught the entire Torah to the people of Israel in the course of their sojourn in the wilderness (only to have them forget it all upon their birth when crossing the River Jordan!). The Judges and the Prophets and the Levites had the task of re-educating the people throughout all their years of adulterous idolatry, thereby inducing a national deja-vu experience. So too, after we are born, we are instructed to relearn all the Torah which we had once known and had been privy to while ensconced in the womb.
Now this analogy of the wombic transition is also supported by the idea of the umbilic mannah life support in the wilderness. This food source was daily - gratis and unceasing up until the entrance of the people into the Land. They were protected on all sides by the ananei hakavod, the clouds of glory, from above and below and all around, a sort of amneotic sac! The flow and outpouring of blessing (shefa) in the wilderness, like in the womb, was total, unconditional and unceasing.
However, upon entry into the land, the birthing of Israel into the world, the flow of blessing was conditional on their total loyalty to the monotheistic ethical imperative. On Sukkoth we have the idea of the "or hamekif," or the light which is all-encompassing. The walls which surround us in the holy sukkah represent G*d's unconditional love and light. It is also said in the Talmud (ibid) "vener daluk al rosho- and a lamp is lit (for the unborn child) above his head." This alludes to the heightened sense of spiritual awareness that the fetus experiences prior to birth.
So the reason we do not say tachanun fromYom Kippur through Sukkoth, or that in some circles the minhag is to continue saying l'eilah U'l'eilah throughout Sukkoth, may be because of this literal connection, that Sukkoth is a celebration and the concluding stage of the rebirthing of Israel. The sukkah then is both the crib of Israel following its birth, as well as a reenactment of the amneotic sac prior to birth. Whichever one it is for each of us depends on whether we did a complete teshuvah process by Yom Kippur.
Like the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, the subjective reality of the observation process effects the objective conditions of the reality being observed. If our teshuvah process was complete by Yom Kippur, then the sukkah represents for us the crib following birth. And if we still need more time to finish our teshuvah, then the sukkah represents the amneotic sac prior to birth. Since we have theTalmudic principle of "basar rov," that is, we follow the majority in cases of safek, or doubt, for clal yisrael as a whole we assume that we completed the teshuvah process "on time" by Yom Kippur. Hence we view, for the majority at least, Sukkoth as our birth (or re-birth), with the eighth day, Shemini Atzeret, being then the bris, corresponding to Simchat Torah in the Land of Israel.
On Rosh Hashana we say HaYom Harat Olam. Harat actually alludes more to pregnancy than to the idea of actual birth, being that herayon means pregnancy and both share the same root.
Sukkot, fast approaching, represents Utmost Joy - the joy of the birthing of the nation of Israel into the world in accordance with the angelic teachings in the womb, carrying the knowledge and the hidden light from within the womb, via the Torah, into the world at large. Simchat Beit haShoeva, the water drawing festival celebrated during Sukkot, inaugurating the rainy season, can then be alternately understood as the breaking of the heavenly waters.
And it follows then, that if Tishrei is the month of birth, of the creation of the world and humanity as the Crown of Creation, then Cheshvan is the month of post-partum depression, the sadness we allow ourselves to feel when the dream of potential inherent in all births starkly confronts the exingencies of the everyday drudgery necessary to fulfilling those dreams. May we and all Israel eternally feel the protective walls of the sukkah which envelops us wholly in holy light, and may the exalted ushpizin guests shower us with the light and enlightenment of the Presence of the Shechinah in our midst. And now, having been born, in the immortal words of Tchernikhovsky, we rightly ask ourselves, "what is to be done?"
Simply to live holy and pure lives, shining the Torah's supernal light in all directions, alighting off the lulav's multiwaved fronds, each cosmic wave throwing more and ever intensely brighter light, giving hope to every darkened corner of an ever dimming world.
Good Shabbos! Good Yuntiff!
© 2000 - 2007 by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman
These words of Torah are written in honor of the memory of my beloved father, Israel J. Melman, obm, Yisrael Yehoshua ben Harav Yaakov Hakohen Melman, zichrono livracha.
Sefer Chabibi stands for CHidushei Baruch Binyamin ben Yisrael Yehoshua
(a chidush, from the word chadash, means a new, original or fresh perspective).
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