Rosh Hashana


What is a Soul?

Adapted from the writings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe by Rabbi Yossi Marcus[1]


“This is the day (zeh hayom) of the beginning of Your work, a remembrance of the first day for it is a chok (law) for Yisrael and a  mishpat (statute) for  Yaakov..”[2]

This prayer from the Rosh Hashanah liturgy, serves as the prelude to numerous discourses discussing the inner dimensions of Rosh Hashanah. It represents the idea that Rosh Hashanah is more a celebration of the creation of man than that of the world. Who is man and why is his creation worthy of celebration?



The world was created on the 25th of Elul. The Hebrew equivalent of 25 is chof hei, which spells koh. Koh connotes vagueness. The word zeh, on the other hand, which means “this” connotes clarity. For example, at the splitting of the sea the revelation of Divinity was such that one was able to point and say zeh keili, “this is my G-d.” By contrast, the various revelations through prophecy (excluding that of Moses) are usually reported with the preface of koh amar hashem, which is translated as So said G-d, but is also understood to mean “like this” said G-d, meaning that there isn’t a crystal clear picture.

The world was created in a state of koh, Divinity was not apparent in its purest form. This state existed until the sixth day when man was created, whose mission it was to bring about the revelation of zeh.

This is why Rosh Hashanah, which celebrates the creation of the world, is celebrated on the first of Tishrei, which corresponds to the sixth day of creation, the day man was created. The reason for this is that the ultimate purpose of creation is that man through his divine service reveals G-dliness in the world—a revelation that could be pointed and addressed as zeh, “This.” This endeavor began on the day man was created, Rohh Hashanah.

Hence the prayer: “This is the day (zeh hayom) of the beginning of Your work, a remembrance of the first day….”

Hayom (this day), says the Zohar, refers to Rosh Hashanah.[3] [Another instance of the word hayom in reference to Rosh Hashanah is in the first verse of the section of the Torah read on the Shabbos before Rosh Hashanah: “You stand hayom (today) before the L-rd your G-d,”[4] today referring to Rosh Hashanah when the entire nation stands together as one “from your leaders…to your water-carriers.”[5]]

Rosh Hashanah is called the beginning of Your work, although it is celebrated on the day corresponding to the sixth day of creation, since the creation of the world is truly celebrated on the day when its purpose began to be realized: the day man was created. It was on this day that  the revelation of zeh began to be realized; hence zeh hayom, meaning that each Rosh Hashanah—hayom—we celebrate the revelation of zeh.

To appreciate the achievement and advancement of the sixth day of creation, we must first understand the condition of the world on the first day of creation.

On the first day of creation, heaven and earth and all of their hosts were created ex nihilo. The Torah’s description of the “creations” of the subsequent days in truth refers to the revelation of these creations—their formation and evolvement—not their creation. The creation of everything—their coming into being, albeit an undefined one—took place on the first day.[6] Even man was in a sense created on the first day, since he was formed from the earth, which was “created” on the first day.

(The spiritual world of Atzilus, says the Zohar,[7] was also created on the first day. Thus is explained the first verse of the Torah:

In the beginning, referring to Chochmah; Elokim, referring to Binah; The heaven, referring to z”a; The earth, referring to Malchus.)

Furthermore, the Midrash writes that on the first day G-d was alone in the world, He was the only conceivable reality. In other words, the creation that took place on the first day was of the sort that demonstrated the exclusivity of G-d’s existence.

In addition, up until the sin, the entire world was on the level of Gan Eden.[8]

Yet despite the superior condition of the world even before man was created, man’s creation brought the world to a higher level. For the first five days of creation, the world, even in its lofty state, was still a world. Lofty, but limited to the parameters of creation. What was introduced through the creation of man was the light beyond, the revelation of the essence of G-d, which transcends any connection and association with the concept of a world. 

How does man have the power to draw and reveal the Essence? Because of the source of his soul, which is of the essence of G-d. Until the sixth day of creation, only the body of man existed in this world. The sixth day is when G-d blew into his nostrils the spirit of life, a soul. The nature of this soul is defined in the Zohar in its comment on the imagery of G-d “blowing” the spirit of life into man: “He who blows, blows from his inside,” from his essence.[9]

The soul is thus called the child of G-d. A child emanates from the essence of the father, a place that is beyond the manifest capacities of the father. (Thus the child is capable of surpassing the father since there are capacities that exist within the father’s essence that are not manifest in him but can become manifest in the child.) So too the soul emanates from the essence of G-d, beyond His manifest attributes.

This explains the statement of the Holy One Blessed be He: “My children have been victorious over me.”[10]

The term the Holy One blessed be He, Hakadosh Baruch Hu, refers to the Ein Sof as it is manifest in the manner of kodosh and boruch, holy and blessed. Holy, or detached, refers to sovev kol almin, the transcendent light, while boruch, which also connotes drawing down, refers to mimalei kol almin, the permeating and adapted light.

Since the soul of man stems from the essence of G-d which is beyond even kodosh [since transcendence implies some level of association with that which is transcended], its halachic ruling supersedes and is victorious over that of Hakodosh Baruch Hu.      

(This idea bears particular relevance on Rosh Hashanah. The Midrash relates: When the celestial angels gather before Hakadosh Boruch Hu to say, When is Rosh Hashanah?…Hakadosh Baruch Hu says to them, Why do you ask me? Let you and I go to the earthly court [and ask them].[11])   

This explains the ability of the soul of man to effect the revelation of the essence of G-d. That it can also reveal this in the world—the unification to koh and zeh—is through its revelation in the body. For the body of man which is created from earth, which was created on the first day, is on the level of koh. When the soul reveals the level of zeh within its body, this in turn causes the revelation of zeh in the entire world.

How does the soul accomplish this? The answer is found in the second half of the above verse: “…for it is a chok for Yisrael and a mishpat for  Yaakov.” In other words, the goal of zeh hayom, the revelation of zeh is achieved through the soul’s study of chok, the Torah, and its fulfillment of mitzvos, mishpat.[12]  &

[1] Sefer Hamaamarim Melukat 2:99.

[2] Mussaf Rosh Hashanah from Rosh Hashanah 27a.

[3] Zohar 2:32b.

[4] Deuteronomy 29:9.

[5] See Likutei Torah Nitzavim (beg.).

[6] Rashi on Genesis 1:14 and 24.

[7] 1:32b.

[8] See Likutei Torah Korach 52c.

[9] See Tanya chapter 2.

[10] The Talmud (Bava Metzia 59b) recounts the following story: Rabbi Eliezer, who had failed to convince the other sages of his view on a particular law, began causing miraculous events, but the sages were not impressed. He caused the walls of the study hall to bend, whereupon Rabbi Yehoshua berated the walls and said: “What business is it of yours that Torah scholars are vying in halachic matters?” The walls did not fall in out of respect for Rabbi Yehoshua nor did they revert to their original position out of respect for Rabbi Eliezer. Finally a heavenly voice rang out and said that the halacha followed Rabbi Eliezer, whereupon Rabbi Yehoshua stood up and said: “The Torah is not in heaven. We do not pay attention to a heavenly voice, for You have already written in Your Torah ‘according to the majority shall the matter be decided.’” Rabbi Nassan once met Elijah the prophet and asked him what the Holy One was doing as Rabbi Yehoshua spoke. He answered: “He was laughing and saying, “My children have been victorious over me, my children have been victorious over me.”

[11] Devarim Rabba 2:14.

[12] Hence the name Yisrael in regard to Torah, since Yisrael contains the word rosh, head, the part of man used in Torah study. Yaakov is used in reference to fulfillment of mitzvos since Yaakov contains the word eikev, heel, alluding to the mitzvos which are fulfilled with the lower physical aspects of creation.

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