The ten days from Rosh Hashana until Yom Kippur are among the holiest days of the year. On one hand, we stand in judgment before the King, but on the other hand, the King comes down, so to say, from His Heavenly Abode, as an act of mercy, allowing us, His subjects, to plead before him for forgiveness – and He is ready to forgive! The medrash (Vayikra Raba 29:6) learns this from the posuk "דרשו ה’ בהמצאו, קראוהו ביותו קרוב" [“Search for Hashem when he is found and call Him when He is close” (Yeshaya 55:6)], that these are the days between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. During these days the Shechina lowers Herself from Her Heavenly Abode so that She hovers directly above each and every Jew.
What causes the Shechina to descend especially during these days?
It appears that it is a direct benefit of the great power of the shofar which unleashes the power of mercy and forgiveness which is normally locked in safekeeping in the higher world, lowering it into the world we live in. This is what Chazal meant when they said that the blast of the shofar causes Hashem to stand up from His Throne of Strict Judgment and to Sit on the Throne of Mercy and Forgiving (Vayikra Raba 29:6). His descent into our world is a result of this mercy.
The descent of Hashem into our world reminds us of Chazal’s explanation of "וישתחו ישראל על ראש המטה" [“And Yisrael bowed upon the head of the bed” (Bereishis 47:31)], that the Shechina hovers above the head of a sick person. (Rashi, Shabbos 12b). Why does the Shechina hover over the head of a sick person? For the person has lost his internal strength which allows him to survive in this world, and Hashem, in His mercy, personally strengthens the person, enabling him to overcome his sickness and fully recover.
So too is the case with a person who has strayed from Hashem’s ways. By doing so he has distanced himself from kedusha; making himself spiritually ill. His spiritual weakness dulls his senses and he too is in need of outside help in order to recover. We can derive from the above medrash that just as Hashem rests His Shechina on a physically sick person, so too He rests His Shechina on a spiritually sick person; strengthening him and allowing him to repent and have a full spiritual recovery!
However, the individual should not feel broken and downtrodden that he cannot fight his battles on his own, for the need for siyata d’shmaya, or as explained here, the descent of the Holy Shechina upon us in order to assist us to break free of our spiritual illnesses, is a necessary part of the core fiber of the Creation. This is hinted to in the first pesukim of the Torah, as it says, "והארץ היתה תהו ובהו וחשך על פני תהום ורוח אלקים מרחפת על פני המים." [“The earth was in a state of astonishing emptiness (Rashi) and darkness befell on the depths, and the Spirit of G-d hovered over the face of the waters.” (Bereishis 1:2).] In other words, the world at first was in a state of irreparable physical and spiritual emptiness. Immediately afterwards, the Spirit of G-d hovered over the face of the waters, meaning the Holy Shechina lowered Herself upon the earth in order to correct any and all of its lacking in a totally miraculous manner.
And just as Hashem instilled this process of lacking and correction into the core of creation as a whole, so too He embedded this process into the way each and every individual deals with his own individual issues; for each individual is a “miniature world” (as Chazal taught in Meseches Sanhedrin 37a, one who upholds the life of one Jewish person is considered as though he upheld the life of the whole world). Therefore, when a person finds himself to be spiritually weak or sick, even to the point where he sees no chance of recovery, he need not be discouraged, for this is the very time the Shechina will hover above his head, urging and helping him to do teshuva and recover. And since it is the Shechina Herself which affords this help, there is nothing that can prevent the person’s recovery if he musters up the strength to change his ways.
This is exemplified in the case of King Chezkiyahu and the Prophet Yishayahu. When Chezkiyahu was deathly ill, Yishayahu told him that the heavenly decree had been sealed and that there is no chance of recovery. Chezkiyahu responded, “I have a tradition from my father’s father, (Dovid Hamelech – Rashi), that even if a sharp sword is placed upon a person’s neck (with no chance of survival according to human assessment) one should not give up hope of being saved through Hashem’s mercy!” (Brachos 10a). (And in fact, Hashem answered Chezkiyahu’s prayers and his life was spared.)
Why does the Torah tell us that “G-d hovered over the face of the waters”?
Water hints to Torah, for Torah is referred to as water in several places (such as "הוי כל צמא לכו למים" (Yeshaya 55:1) and"לא רעב ללחם ולא צמא למים" (Amos 8:11). See also the beginning of Parshas Ha’azinu). Thus “the face of the waters” is hinting to the fact that in order to activate Hashem’s mercy, the individual must make an earnest effort to change his ways and to follow, from now on, the ways of the Torah!
Just as the Shechina hovered over the earth to correct its lackings, so too during the ten days of repentance between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur Hashem hovers over the head of any Jew who takes it upon himself to do teshuva!
Why does Hashem hover over us for exactly 10 days?
It appears that these 10 days reenact the power of the 10 commandments give at Mount Sinai; where each day is aligned against one commandment. For example, the 1st day of Rosh Hashana draws its strength from the 1st commandment, “To believe in Hashem”, and this is what a person should concentrate on during Rosh Hashana; that Hashem is One, both the Creator and the Ruler of the world. The second day of Rosh Hashana draws its strength from the second commandment, “One shall not have other gods”, etc. This is the reverse side of believing in G-d and thus included as well in the message of Rosh Hashana.
The third commandment, “Do not take Hashem’s name in vain”, is reminiscent of the 3rd day of Tishrei when Gedalya ben Achikam who was killed because of his incorrect usage of speech. The middle days and their corresponding commandments are not obvious, but the tenth and last commandment, “Don’t covet your neighbor’s wife” etc. seems to correspond to the tenth day of Tishrei which falls on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year, where we are commanded as one of the five prohibitions to refrain from all contact with one’s wife. And in the Mincha service on Yom Kippur we further allude to this commandment by reading the parsha of illicit relations, which we can suggest hints as well to the commandment not to covet another’s wife.
What does all this teach us?
We learn from the above that the ten days between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur are springboards for the reinstalling of the Ten Commandments in the hearts of all those willing to repent and to return to their Father in heaven. This is because the Torah was given for the Jewish people to follow in Hashem’s ways. And if they return to His ways, it is considered as though the received the Torah anew on Mount Sinai! And I you think about it, you’ll notice that this is exactly what happened in the midbar, on the last day of the ten days of repentence – on Yom Kippur – the second luchos with the ten commandments were given to Moshe to bring down to the Jewish people. (Thus, it would be proper for each individual to review the laws of the Ten Commandments during the ten days of repentance, each commandment on its corresponding day.)
May we have the wisdom and the strength to uproot all evil thought, speech and actions from ourselves and reach out to Hashem with a true and unfaltering determination to repent and return to His ways and His Torah. If we do so, we can be assured that Yom Kippur will offer us a full and thorough cleansing so that we can begin our lives anew on the 11th day of Tishrei with a new, recharged set of luchos in our hands which, bez”H, will never be broken again! Amen! May it be His Will!
May we be mochel one another and look forward to a year of working together to make Klall Yisrael a better and more holy nation!
With wishes to all for a G’mar Chasima Tova!