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The kabbalists explain that in Beresheet, the first Shabbat and first reading of the year, we begin renewing our spiritual work and spiritual process for the upcoming year. Therefore, I'd like to focus on a teaching that can give us insight and direction as we begin this new year.
On the seventh day of Sukkot, a day that's called Hoshana Raba, we take five willow branches and hit them on the floor five times. It's a very confusing action. Why do we do that, and what is the source of the entire day that's called Hoshana Raba? The Torah speaks about Sukkot, saying the first day of it is a day of connection, what's called a Yom Tov, and the eighth day, which is called Shemini Atzeret, is also a day that is a Yom Tov. The seventh day of Sukkot in the Torah, however, has no special significance… yet, we do many special things, not the least of which is the hitting of the willow branches. Where does that come from?
In discussing the origins of that action, which the Ari explains is a tremendous action that reveals great Light, the Talmud says it comes from the Prophets - it doesn't say which prophet specifically - even though not a hint of it is mentioned in the Torah. And I read what I think is a beautiful explanation of this action we do that also holds within it a very important teaching.
As we know, there were two Temples that existed. The First, built by King Solomon, was both a beautiful physical structure and a powerful spiritual structure. When King Solomon first dedicated it, all that were there saw not only the tremendous beauty of this physical structure, but also felt the presence of the Light of the Creator. Then, the First Temple was destroyed, and the Israelites went into exile. When some of them began coming back to the land of Israel, to Jerusalem, it was not a very happy time, and they were not sure if they should even build the Second Temple.
During that time, there were two prophets I want to speak about; one of them was Haggai, and the other was Zecharia. In the book of Haggai,it says the Creator comes to Haggai and tells him to tell the leaders and high priest that even though everybody thinks now is not the time to build the Second Temple, they should start. And so Haggai, with his prophecy from the Creator, awakens both the leaders and the people to become a little excited about the building of the Second Temple.
When we look at the history, we might think everybody was happy at that time; the Second Temple was built and it was so beautiful. But, that's not what was going on. People had great misgivings both about the need or the right to build the Second Temple. However, the Creator comes to Haggai and through him says to the Israelites, “You should know that even though it might not seem like it, I, the Creator, am part of this building.” So, they built most of the Second Temple. Physically, it was not as nice as the First Temple, and it did not feel to the people who had experienced the First Temple to be even close to the amount of Light that was revealed in the First Temple.
So, Haggai had gotten them all excited, saying, “This Second Temple we're going to build will be even greater than the First Temple. You're going to feel the Light of the Creator even more. And those of you who remember the First Temple, are going to experience it in an even greater way.” But that's not what happened. People listened to the prophecy of Haggai, and got excited, investing time, effort, and money, and built the Second Temple. And it was not physically as nice or spiritually as inspiring. The sense of the Light of the Creator in the Second Temple did not exist as it did in the First Temple; one can imagine the state of confusion, sadness, and disappointment that the people were feeling as they're coming to completion of the Second Temple.
And then a very important prophecy comes to Haggai on the day we connect to called Hoshana Raba. It is the one time in the whole Torah and the Prophets where we find a significant action occurring on this day. The Creator says to them, through Haggai, that there are many who experienced the First Temple and its physical grandeur and spiritual elevation, but as they look at and experience this Second Temple, it's almost like nothing, because they remember what the First Temple was like. But the Creator is telling all the Israelites at the time, through Haggai, that they are missing the point.
The Creator says to the Israelites, through Haggai, “You're not aware of what has actually happened. The experience might not be the same for you, the physical structure might not be the same to you, but I promise you that what you can do and the Light that you can reveal through the Second Temple will be greater than the Light revealed in the First Temple. The work you’re going to do in the Second Temple will wake up the entire world; it will wake up the heavens, and the earth, and the entire existence of this world. It might not feel or look like that to you, but I promise the Light revealed from this Second Temple will be greater than the Light revealed from the First Temple.”
And this teaching is brought to clarity in one phrase from the prophet Zecharia. He says, “Which of you is silly enough to disparage the small things?” Meaning, many of us, maybe because we are not aware of the tremendous Light that exists within us, wake up in the morning some days and don't feel so inspired or excited, and we do some action of sharing or of connection. But in our mind, we think that what we’re doing today is sort of not very much, and that tomorrow we’ll wake up and be excited or inspired, and that the actions of sharing and of connection and revelation of Light that we do then will be amazing. That's the First Temple; the First Temple represents excitement and both physical and spiritual grandeur.
But the Creator says to the Israelites through Haggai, “You don't understand. The small actions in the small days, the actions in this smaller Temple, are creating a tremendous amount of Light in the supernal worlds and the lower worlds.” And so, the noise the hitting of the willows on Hoshana Raba makes is because Haggai, then and now, is saying to us, “Don't be mistaken by your small existence. Don't be mistaken by your small actions, just as we should not be mistaken in the smaller Temple and in the lesser experience of spiritual connection.” The Creator tells the Israelites then, and us now, that the Light revealed in the Second Temple, which for most people felt lesser, was actually greater.
And I think often what happens after Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot, after all that time and effort, is that we’re tired. So we come to the first Shabbat of the year, Beresheet, and try to make a connection, but we’re kind of drained, and therefore, we don’t feel as connected because we did so much and now we come to the first Shabbat of the year tired.
But one of the most important understandings that we want to bring with us into this new year on this first Shabbat is not to make the mistake that the Israelites made at the Second Temple, and to remember the prophecy of Haggai and of Zecharia: It's very silly, and comes from lack of clarity and understanding, to disparage the days of small actions and small connection. Because if we appreciate the tremendous Light that exists within us, we would know that even in the smallest action that we do and in the smallest day that we experience, the Light revealed is far beyond anything that we can imagine.
Therefore, as we begin this new spiritual journey in this new year, we want to remind ourselves all the time not to disparage or look down upon our small actions or small connections; we might not see it or experience it in the moment, but the amount of Light that comes from the small days and small actions because of the tremendous Light that exists within us is far beyond anything we can imagine. If we can maintain that clarity, there is no small day and there is no small action. Even the smallest actions that we do, because of the tremendous Light that exists within us, creates, as the Creator says, tremendous Light in the upper and lower worlds. And knowing this, and having clarity about it, makes the Light revealed so much greater.