Rosh HaShana 2013/5774
Sarah Yehudit Schneider

 Our Rosh Hashana avoda—its soul-searching, lengthy prayers, and special mitzvot—is all directed toward one mysterious aim called “sweetening the dinim”, a holy endeavor that serves both man and G‑d alike. The obvious question is what are these dinim and how do you go about sweetening them and why is it so important at this time of year?

The simplistic answer is that dinim are harsh judgments—punitive decrees from on high—that we are hoping to avert through our Rosh HaShana beseeching. There is truth to that perspective for it fits the facts and motivates the exertions appropriate for these awe-filled times. Yet, because its anthropomorphisms have not been cracked, it conceals the ineffable instead of conjuring it and that creates problems even bigger than the one it solved.[1]

Kabbala defines this term differently: Dinim (says kabbala) are the dark knots of unactualized potential that comprise the lion’s share of our soul. They contain (in potential) both our magnificence and our fatal flaws fused into compact slivers of compressed light strewn throughout our psyche and, actually, throughout the world. They are also called sparks, gevurot, dark lights and black fire.

Our mission (and our destiny) is to unpack these dinim—to extract their resources and use them for good. This is what it means to sweeten dinim. Our Rosh Hashana practices employ several methods for accelerating this task which always comes round to “infusing the dinim with consciousness,” i.e. bringing awareness into areas of our life that were previously unconscious (and reactive).

Kabbala divides the world into two types of lights called white fire and black fire [aka chassadim and dinim]. [2]  These two modes of divine expression are always entwined, though sometimes only barely and sometimes to a consummate degree.  They are cosmic forces that correspond to the conscious and subconscious layers of the human psyche and are often then dubbed mind-awareness and body-awareness. [3,4] …The unification of black fire with white fire can be full or partial.  The story of our lives is the saga of their joining and separating and then joining again, a cycle that expresses the progressions and regressions of our life. [5]  When we backtrack, they split, and each goes its own separate way. White fire absorbs back up to its root, while black fire collapses into cinders of dark light, [manifesting then as unsweetened dinim]. And then, as always, they begin their reapproach. The layer that we call reality is the active seam of encounter between these two cosmic lights.

The word dinim in common parlance means decrees which accords beautifully with its kabbalistic usage for the dinim that comprise our soul do actually define the inevitabilities of our lives. The lessons we learn and the talents we display are simply how our dinim look when they’ve absorbed the white fire that fits them and unpacks them like a cosmic soul mate. And yet, the route we take to actualize our dinim—that’s where free choice comes in. There are myriad ways to get from here to there. Some are short, direct and scenic while others are agonizing, foul and depressing. We pray for the former and try to maximize its likelihood. That is the avoda of Rosh HaShanna—to sweeten the dinim so the inevitabilities of our life will happen within a context of revealed goodand we approach the task from three fronts: teshuva, prayer-visioning, and shofar. The first two are preparations for Rosh Hashana while the shofar is the quintessence of the day.

Teshuva is a retrospective sweetening. We reflect on our deeds gone by, yet now, with the wisdom of hindsight, we assess their impact. We have wisened in the course of this year and bring that new consciousness into our reflection. We see more clearly the damage done by our misdeeds which deepens our remorse and strengthens our resolve not to repeat that behavior again. This is how teshuva sweetens dinim. Like superglue makes the seam of repair stronger than the material itself before it broke, so teshuva produces a strengthening of character that removes the flaw that allowed the sin in the first place. Now we are even less likely to sin than before our fall. And the karmic consequences of sin (the harsh judgments also called, dinim) can now dissipate, for we’ve already accomplished (through teshuva) what they are designed to produce (through pain)—we faced the remorse, quit the behavior and recompensed the damage. There is no point to these purgations.  They add nothing. And in this universe, if you don’t have a point, you cease to exist.

Prayer-Visioning is a proactive sweetening.  It aims to direct the events of our life along a path of revealed good that manifests our aspirations for the future. Prayer-visioning is a meditation—a contemplation on the questions: What am I designed to do? What does my Creator want from me? What are my hopes, prayers and longings?  The dark knots of unactualized potential in our souls (i.e. dinim) contain the broad strokes of our destiny. Probing them we formulate goals and action plans that really do reflect the purpose and destiny of our lives.

Providence happens on two fronts: 1) HaShem orchestrates our circumstances in response to our choices insuring that we accomplish our purpose.  This is an awkward mode of providence—reactive and clunky.  Like sleepwalkers we swerve this way and HaShem (via His angelic proxies) brings an influence that pushes in the opposite direction but, perhaps, overshoots the mark. Then He quickly implements a counterforce but that starts us spinning off target again. And so it goes, back and forth, clumsily scooting us toward our destiny without our conscious and willful participation.

And then there is 2) Providence that emanates from within.  HaShem drops an insight into our heart-mind that awakens an impulse to try this or read that, to aim here or build that. And off we go, willfully exerting ourselves to achieve that goal. This mode of providence is infinitely more efficient because it is a dialogue. HaShem guides us along the path that is His first choice for our lives. He communicates His guidance by sparking insights from within. We do our own soul-searching and formulate goals that we believe will make us happy. We communicate these to HaShem through prayer. If we are genuine seekers of truth then the inner mode of Providence predominates. We will be alert to HaShem’s communications and He will be receptive to ours for, beneath it all, we share the same goal: The only thing that will make us truly happy is to do what we are designed to do.  And that is the only thing HaShem wants from us anyway, for He designed us to do exactly that.

And so in our Rosh Hashana preparations we reflect on our lives and formulate a vision of who we want to become and what we seek to accomplish this new year. Instead of sleepwalking through life we probe our dinim, give thought to our destiny and design a path from here to there. This introspection brings us into dialogue with HaShem.  It sweetens the dinim (the inevitabilities of our life) by infusing them with consciousness which increases the chances that they will follow the path of revealed good expressed in our prayer-vision.


The shofar takes these two preparations for Rosh Hashana and sweetens them at their root.

The first shofar was G-d’s breathing into Adam’s nostrils the soul of life. (Sod Yesharim, 1)  With that breath HaShem conveyed to Adam all of His hopes, prayers and visions for mankind. That transmission is built into the very substrate of our being. Every year, on Rosh Hashana, the shofar awakens our soul’s deep, visceral remembrance that we only want good, we only want truth, we only want to do what we’re designed to do. And that purest of intentions emanating from the bedrock of our soul sweetens our whole life up to that point, for every instant gets credit for bringing us to this moment where body, heart, mind, and soul align with the ancient vision that was our holy starting point.

And the shofar sweetens the future because it produces devekut—again and again, with each blast—burning that pathway into our nerve net so we will spend more time there this year. We prepare our prayer vision and then renounce it as the shofar blows.  We hope for mazal tov but more than that we know, that sweetness comes from finding God in whatever life will bring, and that is what the shofar trains us to do.

I want to bless us as individuals and as a community that our Rosh Hashana service bring down a sweet judgment for the world this year. Let consciousness shine into all the dark corners of unactualized potential (both in the world and inside our very own souls).  And may we gasp in delight as these dark knots spring open to unfurl a luxurious treasure of hidden beauties that is their sweetening. The world and every creature in it should have a good, sweet, healthy, joyful, peaceful, growth-through-joy and blessings-riddled new year.


[1] For it violates the 3rd of Rambam’s Twelve Articles of Faith (that God does not have a body and physical concepts do not apply to Him.)

[2] TY Shekalim 25b; Zohar 3:132a.  These terms, white fire and black fire, also correspond to the kabbalistic terms, chassadim and gevurot/dinim.

[3] Leshem, HaDrush Olam HaTohu, Maamar Clali, section 2, p2, rt (but also entire maamar); p. 12 rt. (1:1:2:2).

[4] Leshem, HaDrush Olam HaTohu, Maamar Clali, section 2, p2, rt; p. 12 rt. (1:1:2:2).

[5] Ari, EC, Shaar Miut HaYareach, Chapter 2.

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