Tishrei: The Festive Journey

September 8, 2023

The High Holiday season is a fascinating train ride with multiple stops at critical stations to accumulate the energy, guidance and inspiration we need for the year. Come along for the ride!

(משיחת שבת בראשית, מבה”ח מר-חשון ה’תשי”א)

A. Traveling by Train

The metaphor: The Rebbe compares the Tishrei month of holidays to a train. There are express trains that travel directly to their destinations, and there also local trains that stop at various stations. There are also different types of stations: small stations where the stop is brief, and large stations where the stop is longer. Before the train departs, a whistle is blown to remind passengers that it’s time to board.

B. The Stations of the Festival Train

Just as a train has different compartments for different types of passengers, there are also different types of holidays during the month of Tishrei. The High Holy Days – characterized by awe and solemnity, and the days of joy – characterized by happiness and dancing

Station #1: The 40 days of repentance from Rosh Chodesh Elul to Yom Kippur. Similar to the 40 days of warning given to the people of Nineveh by the prophet Jonah (Source 1). What is the source for these 40 days? During these 40 days, Moses was on the mountain and received the second tablets that represented God’s forgiveness to the Jewish people after the sin of the Golden Calf (Source 2).

Station #2: The twelve days between the 18th of Elul and Rosh Hashanah, corresponding to the twelve months of the year, during which we can rectify and perfect every month of the year (Source 3).

Station #3: Rosh Hashanah – when we all  repent. The shofar blowing during Elul consists of ten blasts to awaken us to rectify the ten faculties of the soul – the mind and emotions. On Rosh Hashanah, we blow the shofar one hundred times to ensure that all aspects of our soul, including all of the ten subdivisions of each faculty, are rectified.

The Torah portion of Nitzavim is always read in proximity to Rosh Hashanah and begins with the words, “You all stand today” (Source 4). The Alter Rebbe, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi explains that the word “today” refers to the great day of  Rosh Hashanah, and the completeness of repentance hinges on the unity of all parts of the nation – the ten types of Jews, “all of you… the chiefs of your tribes… from your woodchopper to your water carrier, because even the simplest person contains unique virtues and advantages.

This is also hinted at by the blowing of the shofar one hundred times, to ensure that all Jews of every possible level are joining in repentance.

Station #4: Yom Kippur – forgiveness and atonement. Superficially, forgiveness is not dependent on us. On Yom Kippur, we ask G-d for forgiveness, but who knows if He will forgive us? The Alter Rebbe explains that when repentance is sincere, we can demand forgiveness. An example is the prayer recited by the pilgrims to the Holy Temple on the three Festivals, “we have fulfilled Your command, now do as you promised.” This statement is not phrased as a request or prayer,  but as a demand (Source 5 and 6).

C. Specialized Compartments

The festivals are like a train that brings us closer to G-d. This train has multiple compartments: There’s the compartment of repentance, which passengers board at the Elul station. There’s the compartment of awe, which passengers board at the Yom Kippur station, and there’s the compartment of joy, which passengers board at the Sukkot and Simchat Torah station. All these stations lead to the same destination. However, G-d gave us different holidays so that every Jew can connect to at least one of them. But it’s not advisable to be the one who waits to jump on the train at the last station and with the last carriage. It’s better to join from the beginning, find a good seat, and enjoy the entire ride



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