On the eve of Rosh Hashanah, all things revert to their primordial state. The Inner Will ascends and is retracted into the divine essence; the worlds are in a state of sleep and are sustained only by the Outer Will. The service of man on Rosh Hashanah is to rebuild the divine attribute of sovereignty and reawaken the divine desire, "I shall reign," with the sounding of the shofar. (The Kabbalistic masters)
One night a year, the world succumbs to a cosmic slumber.
On the functional level, the sleeper's vital signs plod on: the sun still rises, winds blow, rains fall, seeds germinate, fruit ripens. But the consciousness of creation is muted. For its soul of souls--the "inner will" of the divine desire for creation--has ascended, retreated to a place from where it views its body and life with a calculated detachment. Only the "outer will"--the most external element of the divine desire--remains to sustain the sleeping body of creation.
And then, a piercing sound rises from the earth and reverberates through the heavens. A sound that wakens the sleeping universe, stirring its soul to resume its conscious, willful animation of its material shell.
The cry of the shofar resounds. A profound yet utterly simple cry, a note free of the nuances of rational music. An utterly simple cry that rouses the soul of creation to a renewed commitment to the endeavor of life.
Thus the Kabbalists describe the cosmic drama which repeats itself each year, as the world "falls asleep" on the eve of Rosh Hashanah and is "awakened" the following morning by the sound of the shofar. Indeed, it is told of certain tzaddikim that on the night and morning of Rosh Hashanah they would feel physically weak: so attuned were they to the diminution of divine involvement in the world during this time, that it affected their own souls' investment in their bodies.
What does it mean that the world is asleep? How does our sounding of the shofar restore the consciousness and vitality of creation? Why is G‑d's inner will withdrawn on Rosh Hashanah eve, and why does His outer will remain behind? What, indeed, is the difference between "inner will" and "outer will"? To answer these questions, we must first examine the dynamics of "will" in our own lives. For as the Sages of the Talmud have revealed to us, "As the soul fills the body, so G‑d fills the world."
The Layers of Will
Will is the soul of deed. Ultimately, no act is ever performed that is not driven by the engine of volition.
But will is a multi-layered thing. There is the outermost layer of will that directly drives our actions. Then there is the deeper will that underlies this external will, which, in turn, contains yet a deeper will, which is itself an outgrowth of yet a deeper will, and so on.
Thus, the relationship between will and deed is not static, but subject to changes and fluctuations. At times, the innermost level of will suffuses our actions, enlivening them with the desire and satisfaction that motivate them. Other times, our deeds may be lifeless and lethargic, sustained only by the most superficial aspect of our will.
To illustrate, let us take the example of a person who owns and operates a business. Our businessman does many things in the course of the day--waking at an early hour, commuting to his office, answering the telephone, meeting with potential clients, and so on. On the most basic level, these deeds are driven by the will to do them: he wants to get out of bed, he wants to start the car, he wants to pick up the receiver--if he didn't want to do these things, he wouldn't do them. But why does he want to do these things? Because of an underlying will that his business should survive and prosper. But why does he want his business to survive and prosper? Because it brings him income and prestige--if this were not the case, he would have no desire for a business. Delving deeper, the desire for money and status stem from deeper wants--the desire for food, shelter and acceptance by his fellows--which, in turn, are outgrowths of the desire, intrinsic to every creature, to continue to exist.
This does not mean that every time our businessman picks up the telephone he does so because he senses that his very existence depends on it. Indeed, he need not even be convinced that the act will yield a profit, or even that it is crucial to the functioning of his business. Ultimately, however, the act of lifting that telephone receiver "contains" the entirety of the will that drives it, including its deepest cause of causes.
This "inner will" is the soul of his action, suffusing it with a life and vitality that reflect how deeply its origins lie in his innermost self. Thus, there is a quality to the way that the owner of a business picks up the phone that shows a desire and commitment deeper than that of the most devoted employee.
There are times, however, when the soul of a deed ascends a notch, to view its body and life with a calculated detachment.
There are times when a person reassesses what he does. Is the business indeed turning a profit? Is it meeting my needs? Is this what I want to do with my life?
His actual involvement with the business continues as before. He continues to get out of bed in the morning, continues to drive to the office, continue to answer the telephone. He continues to "want" to do these things on the most external level of will. But the deeper elements of his will are no longer in it. The business can be said to be "asleep," animated only by the most external layer of its soul.
Then something happens to rekindle our businessman's desire. Perhaps he sees a lucrative figure on the year's balance sheet or a most promising projection for the future. Or a certain deal materializes that embodies everything he loves about his business, everything about it that reaffirms his self-vision and furthers his goals. His deeds, dry and mechanical in his contemplative interim, are reinfused with life and vitality. The business wakens from its slumber.
King of the Universe
Once a year, the universe enters into a state of suspended animation.
G‑d reconsiders His creation. Is it turning a profit? Is it realizing My goals? Do I still desire to invest Myself in the role of "Creator"?
The sun still rises, winds blow, rains fall, seeds germinate, fruit ripens. G‑d's desire for a world continues to sustain and drive the universe. But G‑d's desire for a world is but the most external layer of the universe's soul.
Why does G‑d desire a world? There is a deeper motive beneath this membrane of will, and yet a deeper motive beneath it, and so on. The Kabbalistic writings abound with various divine motives for the creation of the universe: the desire to express His infinite potential; the desire that He be known by His creations; the desire to bestow goodness; among others. Each of these "motives" relates to another layer of the divine will, describing the soul of the universe as manifested on another level of reality.
At the heart of it all lies the very essence of the divine will to create: G‑d created a world because He wanted to be king.
G‑d is all-capable and all-powerful. So it would seem a relatively simple matter for Him to make himself king: all He has to do is create a world, populate it with creatures, and rule over them. But this alone would not make Him a king, at least not in the ultimate sense of the word.
A shepherd who drives a herd of a million sheep is not a king. A tyrant who rules an empire of a billion terrified subjects is not a king. A benevolent patriarch who extends his authority over dozens of his descendants is not a king. A teacher with a thousand devoted disciples is not a king. All these have one thing in common: their subjects are compelled to submit to them. They may be compelled by their reliance on the shepherd's devotion to their needs, by their ruler's power over them, by their filial bond to their father or by their appreciation of their master's wisdom--the bottom line is that they are compelled. And true sovereignty cannot be compelled.
A true sovereign is one whose subjects freely choose to submit to him. Not because they need him, not because they fear his power, not because they love him, not even because they appreciate his greatness, but because they choose him as their king.
So to become king of the universe, G‑d created man--a creature endowed with free choice. He created a being that is both the furthest from Him and the closest to Him of all His creation. Furthest from Him in that man is a free and independent being--free even to rebel against his maker. Closest to Him in that man is a free and independent being--as only He is free and independent. In the words of the first man, Adam, "First and last, You created me." G‑d created man, "dust from the earth," the last and lowliest of His creations, and "blew into his nostrils a breath of life" that is the very "image of G‑d."
There are many aspects to our relationship with G‑d. We relate to G‑d as our shepherd, expressing our gratitude for His providence over and sustenance of our lives. We fear and revere Him, ever mindful of His majesty and power. We love Him with the boundless love of a child, recognizing our intrinsic bond with our Father in Heaven. We gain a student's unique appreciation of his master by studying His wisdom, implicit in His creation and revealed to us in His Torah. Each of these relationships realizes another aspect or "layer" in the divine motive for creation, intensifying and enlivening G‑d's involvement with His world.
But once a year, "all things revert to their primordial state" as G‑d reevaluates the very core of His desire for a world, the underlying "why" of His involvement with us as shepherd, ruler, father and teacher. Once a year, G‑d asks Himself: Why create a world?
The First Coronation
The timing of this cosmic audit is not arbitrary: Rosh Hashanah is the day on which G‑d's sovereignty of the world was first realized.
Rosh Hashanah is the sixth day of creation, the day on which man was created. G‑d had already created the heavens and the earth, the animals and the angels; He already presided over a world that submitted to His rule, over creatures who feared and loved Him and appreciated His wisdom. But the world was still in a state of suspended animation: its soul of souls had yet to be evoked. Then G‑d created man, the only one of His creations with the freedom to choose or reject his maker.
Moments later, G‑d was king. "When Adam stood up on his feet," the Zohar tells us, "he saw that all creatures feared him and followed him as servants do their master. He then said to them: ‘You and I both, come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before G‑d our maker.'" When the first man chose G‑d as his king, the primordial purpose in creation came to fruition, infusing G‑d's work with life and vitality.
Every year, "all things revert to their primordial state" as G‑d again relates to His creation as He did prior to Adam's crowning Him king. On Rosh Hashanah eve, the divine "inner will" for creation is retracted and the world is plunged into a state of "sleep."
Then, a piercing sound rises from the earth and reverberates through the heavens. The cry of the shofar resounds: an utterly simple cry, reflecting not the fear of the subject, not the love of the child or the sophistication of the student's understanding, but the simple trumpet blast of a people's coronation of their king. A cry that reflects the simplicity of choice--true choice, choice that is free of all external motives and influences.
A cry that rouses the soul of creation to a renewed commitment to and involvement in the endeavor of life.
Based on the teachings of Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi and six successive generations of Chabad rebbes; rendered by Yanki Tauber