In a previous section we discussed the intrinsic connection between all the holidays of the month of Tishrei. The thread that ties Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Succot together is the number 100. In this section, we will discuss how even another number, 68 also serves as a bridge between all these holidays. The word chaim, life, equals 68 and is used repeatedly in every prayer of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur: “Remember us for life, O King who desires life, and write us in the Book of Life, for your sake, God of life.”
The number 68 also equals the word challal, a vacuum or empty space. This word plays an important part in Kabbalistic cosmology as taught by the Arizal. When God “thought” of creating the world, an existential problem became immediately apparent. Since no reality can exist beyond (or outside) the infiniteness of God, where could a finite, “independent” world possibly find “space” to exist? The Arizal explains that God “contracted” Himself, as it were, in order to create a “vacuum” or womb-like space in which a finite world could then be created. Into the “vacuum” God shone a ray of light and the world came into being.
As one year ends and another begins there exists in a sense a challal, or in a different metaphor, a book of blank pages. Our every thought, speech and action fills in the empty space or the empty pages. It is this record that is read and judged on the next Rosh Hashanah. Our prayer is that God fills in the new year with the gift of life.
On Succot we shake and make a blessing on the four species. Of the four the lulav or palm branch takes on prime importance as the blessing that we recite over the four species only mentions the lulav. The numeric value of lulav is 68. Since the shape of the lulav is a straight line, it can be seen to represent the ray of light spoken about by the Arizal which enters the empty space created by the primordial contraction that was crucial in the creation of the world. As we begin a New Year shaking the lulav represents our desire to pierce through the darkness of the world and any emptiness in our hearts to create light and life.
Here again we see how certain numbers, words or concepts give us the tools to understand the deep connection between all the holidays of the month of Tishrei in particular and how these methods of learning in general give us the means to delve ever deeper into the wisdom of the Torah.