he Mishna of Rosh HaShana begins with the not-so-apparent and perhaps not so relevant information that there are actually four dates considered New Years, each for a different purpose. However, it has long been our tradition and with no dissent or uncertainty, that these upcoming days at the beginning of Tishrei, mark what is universally, within Judaism, known as Rosh HaShana. The other dates all have other names or holidays associated with them, Pesah (in Nissan), Tu B’Shvat, or collapse back into the Tishrei date (the first of Elul, in terms of the dialectic in the Mishna), leaving only three. It thus seems obvious that our sages are trying to push us to think in terms of the related concepts of four and how they work together in an interplay to jar us into greater awareness and growth for this turning of the season and the turning of the year. Also, the alternation between three and four seems an important hint.
A number of Jewish fours spring to mind. Perhaps the most obvious is the four-letter name of God, Yod Hay Vav Hey. This leads us to the concept of the four kabbalistic worlds, Atzilut, Briya, Yetzira and Asiya, four levels of our consciousness and four levels of ever-more-interior/basic/higher/more-fundamental analysis of how things are. This also points us towards many classical Jewish meditation and breathing techniques as well as hinting, by the tip of the Yod, the wonder of what’s beyond the Four Worlds, to the unknown and unknowable, the Ein Sof, the ultimate source of humility, awe and respect for that both most deeply within us and that completely other from our self-conceptions. However, in many systems the Yod itself, as well as the world of Atzilut represent that which is beyond our knowing, returning us effectively to three levels in which we function.
Two other major areas of four also spring to mind. The four Imahot, the Matriarchs, Sarah, Rivka (Rebecca), Leah and Rachel, four aspects of the great feminine energy which not only complement but also enclose and enclothe the three aspects of masculine energy represented by the Patriarchs Avraham (Abraham), Yitzchak (Isaac) and Ya’akov/Yisrael (Jacob/Israel) (whose dual name/dual nature bridges the realm of three to the realm of four). We learn that Avraham represents Chesed, pure lovingkindness, Yitzchak, Din, strict justice and structure and Ya’akov Tiferet, the balance of the two. And as Yisrael, he transcends the limitations of mere clan-ness and, with his own four wives encompasses all and creates with them nationhood. Again a four which becomes three which becomes four…..
Next, we return to the very beginning of the Tora and read in the Creation story of the river which flows out of Eden and splits into four “heads”, irrigating, nourishing, illuminating and informing the world.
Turning to the Zohar, the basis of most Kabbala, in the Idra Zuta, that final, mysterious meeting just before his death that Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai holds with his closest students, trying to pass on the deepest wisdom for a final time, we hear of the three “skulls” or heads which represent the stages of divine energy, of the vitalizing force which creates and sustains reality. Stumped and disappointed–I wanted an easy connection, I then remembered the fourth, unseen head, the Raisha D’lo ItYada, literally the head which can’t be known, that which fully transcends our human ability to perceive or imagine, the Ein Sof which, as it were, encompasses all (just as the four Matriarchs enclose and enclothe the three Patriarchs). Also within the Kabbalistic “Worlds” description we have the vibration between four and three and back again as the three “lower” worlds exist co-equal with the highest, then become secondary and dependent as defining/revealing/completing “garments” for the highest and thus most abstract reality and then return as independent but interdependent entities as the fourth is once again beyond our perception.
Going out on a limb, especially since I hesitate to propose any easy definitions of either masculine or feminine, I offer this historical and future perspective on Rosh HaShana. It certainly isn’t meant to be an exclusive Truth, but I hope it will contribute to our individual and collective efforts at growth, healing and evolution.
Many historians, sociologists, anthropologists and, perhaps dreamers have proposed a prehistory where the feminine was dominant. Certainly most of recorded history has been the age of masculine power, but that has rapidly been changing. We learn that on Rosh HaShana the world was created and according to the Ari,cited by many masters, on each Rosh HaShana the world, as it were, is reset to it’s starting values. In other words, each year we have a chance to rebalance and to begin anew. Keeping this in mind, perhaps a message to take with us into our meditations and prayers and plans is the rebalancing of these forces, masculine and feminine, unique but co-equal, each necessary and only -together-sufficient to invite the Third Partner, who in ultimate transcendence is, perhaps, also the Fourth, to reach new heights this year, to integrate and motivate, to unify and celebrate uniqueness, to make this a year that together we more closely approach our potentials and our destinies. A year of song as a metaphorical string vibrates between and creates a harmony of these two values, a year filled with light and love for all.
Keyn Yehi Ratzon