Support The Karen Berg Scholarship Fund. Learn More
The Shabbat of the portion Ha’Azinu usually falls during the ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, and is called Shabbat Shuva, the Shabbat of Returning. But before we discuss the spiritual significance of this portion, I think it’s important to have clarity on the process that our soul is going through during these ten days.
Rav Isaac Luria, the Ari, explains that the whole secret of Rosh Hashanah is in the story of Adam and Eve, in the Book of Genesis. Adam and Eve are born back-to-back and God puts Adam to sleep, in a state known as dormita, so that He can literally cut and separate them from one another. Therefore, the concept of dormita is when Zeir Anpin, the Supernal Man which is represented by us, is put under a state of spiritual sleep and then the dinim, judgments, are cut away and given to Malchut, the Supernal Female. The giving of the judgments to Malchut is interesting, because usually when we think of the word judgment, it has a negative connotation, but in this instance, during the process that occurs, the judgments are being put into Malchut, the place from which we receive Light.
So, there are two steps in this process, and our understanding these steps is important. First, there is a cutting away of the klipot—the completely dark parts of ourselves, the dinim - and this is hopefully a process we went through during Rosh Hashanah. But the second step is that we also have to be able to transform some of this darkness, which is in the form of judgment, into Light. As such, one of the great purposes of Shabbat Shuva is not just to cut away the judgment, but also to be able to transform this judgment into Light.
The Zohar states that Rosh Hashanah is the time when the Creator sits on the Throne of Judgment. Therefore, beginning on Rosh Hashanah and continuing through the ten days up to and including Yom Kippur, we have the opportunity and ability to transform our own awakened judgment into Light. So, there is the cutting away, and then there is the transformation; it is these two aspects that we want to focus on.
The Ari explains this process as follows: after we have become reborn by participating in the spiritual process of Rosh Hashanah, and through the work that we do during this Shabbat Shuva and the days preceding Yom Kippur, we cut away the klipot, the lowest parts that we want to get rid of. When the klipot are cut away, they can no longer attach themselves to the judgment, to the part that we have used wrongly throughout the year and want to transform into Light. The klipot can no longer damage the judgment or the parts that can be transformed. And then the process of cutting away the judgments from the Supernal Zeir Anpin and transferring it to Malchut begins. All these judgments, which are energy that have not necessarily been manifested in a way of Light by us in the past, are given into Malchut.
On Shabbat Shuva we read Devarim 32:2. It says: Ya’arof kamatar likchi, “My doctrine shall drop like the rain.” Many commentators have difficulty understanding what this verse refers to. The word ya’arof literally translated means “to cut off;” ya’arof kamatar likchi, therefore, would mean that the Light and wisdom that we receive should cut off. But now we understand that part of our process on Shabbat Shuva is, on one hand, to look at the parts of our being that we want to cut off and leave behind. We have to appreciate this process, because there is a lot of negativity that was connected to us up until Rosh Hashanah, and once we make our connections on that day, we no longer have to be attached to it. We don’t have to go back to any of our negativity or our negative traits.
On Rosh Hashanah we disconnected ourselves from our negativity and negative traits, and through Shabbat Shuva have the power of ya’arof kamatar likchi. The Light we received at Rosh Hashanah has the power to cut off all those parts of us that we don’t want to go back to. This is important for many reasons, not the least of which is that the kabbalists teach that every negative action we do creates a negative angel, and the Zohar says that every negative angel we create remains with us in our life; every time there is chaos, every time there is pain, every time there is lack, it is because those negative angels we have created are there to do damage.
But on Rosh Hashanah, we disconnected from these negative angels, because we elevated to a higher place. Does this mean that we killed these angels? No, it is simply that what we accomplished on Rosh Hashanah, in essence, was that the negative angels we have created are no longer in our realm and can no longer touch us, do damage to us, or bring chaos into our lives… providing we don’t go back to them. It is very important that we understand this. These negative angels are still here, but they exist in a lower realm, in a place where we once were before Rosh Hashanah, and if we go back there, to our previous negativity, they will come back and join us again. As such, the gift of ya’arof kamatar likchi means that with the Light we received at Rosh Hashanah, we will cut off all those negative angels we have created, providing we don’t go back to them. If we go back to the behaviors that we had before Rosh Hashanah, it is not just that we haven’t elevated ourselves, it is that we will find ourselves again surrounded by all those forces that we wanted to leave behind.
So, at Rosh Hashanah, we do two things: we cut off our connection to the negative forces and to angels we had created, because we have elevated to a new place. And all those forces of negativity, no matter how strong, no matter how powerful, are no longer in our lives. But we have to know that after Rosh Hashanah, we cannot go back to the way our lives were before. Because then what happens is not that it completely nullifies the work, but the separation we have created between ourselves and these negative forces of chaos and destruction will be removed. And if that’s removed, then all of those negative angels and forces of chaos can come back into our lives.
The secret of the meaning of the verse ya’arof kamatar likchi is that with the connections we made at Rosh Hashanah, we have cut off the power of these negative forces that we created through our negative actions throughout the past year, and even throughout past years and incarnations. But we have to understand that the only way we can remain protected from these negative forces is if we are truly in a different place - and not just yesterday, the day before, or even today - but that our life actually changes. If we go back to the same places of anger, jealousy, and Desire to Receive for the Self Alone after Rosh Hashanah, then these forces are still in that lower realm and can still do damage. The way to make sure that we keep these forces unattached to our lives is only if our life actually changes. It doesn’t necessarily need to be a complete change, but there needs to be some level of anger, jealousy, or Desire to Receive for the Self Alone that we no longer go back to.
It’s important to know that throughout our lives, unfortunately, most of us have created angels of chaos, and every lack we have felt in the past year has come from those forces that we have created, and they are still around. But on Rosh Hashanah, we had an opportunity to disconnect from them, and to make sure they remain at least dormant (if not dead) and unable to intrude in our lives, we have to remain in a different place. If we remain in an elevated place, these forces of the klipot and negativity are going to try and find us, but they can’t because we are not there anymore. But if we go back, they will still be there, and we will have gone back to the chaos that existed there. And they have the strength to wreak the same - if not more – havoc than before.
It is a deep understanding of the process of transformation. As the Ari explains, we cut away the klipot, but there is also the aspect of dinim, judgments, which we actually need. We transform the dinim on Rosh Hashanah, and we continue to transform these judgments in the days from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur, and especially on Shabbat Shuva, when we return the lost energy that found its way into judgment and turn it into Light that we can use this coming year.