When we take a bird’s eye view of the holidays that inaugurate the New Year, we see a collection of diverse images of God.
The predominant image of God on Rosh Hashanah is as King and Judge who is writing us into a cosmic Book of Life and Death. On Yom Kippur, we encounter God as a compassionate forgiving Father. Sukkot features God as a Lover, and we feel close to Him and hugged by Him. And on Simchat Torah, we reach the height of intimacy and complete union with God. What are we to do with all this imagery? Are we really supposed to believe all this?
Surely all these images are only metaphors for a higher divine truth that is beyond spoken words and conceptual images. We can only know the Divine truth experientially. Anyone who believes that God is literally a King, Judge, Father or Lover is making graven images of God and committing spiritual idolatry.
What then is the meaning and value of all these metaphors?
According to Kabbalah, these conceptual metaphors are vehicles to access the transcendental truth of God. These are the metaphors that can take us to the threshold of the immediate and direct experience of God that is beyond all words and concepts. Any other metaphors wouldn’t even get us close to the truth.
Our task and goal on these holy days, is to use these metaphors of King, Father and Lover towards building our consciousness and awareness of God, so that we can receive and experience God’s guiding power, forgiveness and love.
With every word of prayer and every detail of the holiday rituals, we are constructing the necessary channels to bring the Divine truth into our life. Think of these metaphors as the code number to a great combination lock. The Torah gives us the right combination of metaphors necessary to unlock the vault and get to the real treasure of Divine truth.
We need to believe that God is like a King and Judge, who stands over us and judges us on Rosh Hashanah. We then need to believe that God is also like a forgiving Father, who picks us up, supports us and forgives us on Yom Kippur. And on Sukkot, we need to believe that God is like our Lover, close to us, holding us in His loving embrace. All these images in combination unlock the door to our intimate communion with God on Simchat Torah.
This is the true meaning and power of faith. Faith is not a collection of ideas that we adopt. It is an orientation to life and to the Source of all life—God. Faith is a way of seeing. Unlike the popular saying “Seeing is believing”—the Kabbalah teaches, “Believing is seeing.” In other words, the greater our faith is in God, the more God can become manifest in our lives. The more we believe that God is like a King, the more Divine power and guidance can enter in to our lives. The more we believe that God is like a compassionate Father, the more compassion and forgiveness can become manifest in our lives. And the more we believe that God is like a Lover, the more Divine love, intimacy and oneness can fill our lives.
Our major life’s work is to build—with proper ideas, words and actions—a sukkah of faith, a perceptual dwelling that we can take with us even in the desert-like barren times of our lives.
The more we believe in God’s guidance, forgiveness and love, the more we can receive them.