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Simchas Torah: Love at the High Holidays' climax
Rabbi David Aaron
Experiencing the deepest possible intimacy with the Divine
According to Jewish Mysticism, life is an evolving process of awareness, whereby, we gradually discover who we really are and how we have always been one with G-d and with each other. The realization of this oneness is the experience of love, and this is the greatest joy we can ever feel.
The great Kabbalistic master, Rabbi Isaac Luria, explains that the story of Adam and Eve is a good paradigm for understanding this process of awareness, especially in reference to what is spiritually happening during the High Holidays.
The Torah (Bible) teaches that Adam was not just a man, he was androgynous, both male and female, connected back-to-back. Neither part knew the other existed. After creating this being, G-d says that it is not good for Adam to be alone. To help him find his match an eizer kanegdo helper opposite to him G-d charges Adam with naming all the animals.
Essentially, G-d was setting up Adam, so to speak, on blind dates in the lobby of the Garden of Eden Hotel. Adam was waiting there anxiously, thinking, "Maybe this is the one for me." In walks a giraffe. "No," thinks Adam. "This is a giraffe. Maybe G-d is warming up." Then in walks a gorilla, and so on, until poor Adam has named all the animals. Feeling no companionship to these blind dates, he becomes increasingly lonely and feels alienated.
The Torah then relates that G-d puts Adam to sleep. Some Torah commentators say that Adam actually goes to sleep because he is depressed, a feeling I still remember well from my own dating days. While Adam is sleeping, G-d separates the two beings, though some commentators say G-d removed a rib from one side to separate the two. In either case, Adam wakes up to find his other half, Eve, whom he realizes is of his essence. At this point, Adam and Eve stand face-to-face, choose to unite and experience the ecstasy of love.
Originally, they were back to back one being, but not conscious of that truth. And they certainly did not experience love because to experience love you must, through challenge and choice, become conscious of your oneness.
Rabbi Luria explains that the story of Adam and Eve is the quintessential love story and it parallels the love story between us and G-d. Just as in the case of Adam and Eve, the feelings of loneliness and alienation, actually create the yearning and the anticipation for the final conscious reuniting, so too we must go through this process before we can experience the ultimate oneness and love we share with G-d.
THE CHOICE TO CONNECT TO G-D
Similar to Adam and Eve who began as one entity joined back-to-back, yet knew nothing of each other's existence; we too are, so to speak, joined back-to-back with G-d. In other words, we are intrinsically connected to G-d whether we know it or not. But without knowing it, we cannot experience the blissful joy of oneness. Until we experience alienation from G-d, yearn for oneness and consciously choose to reconnect to G-d, until we move from back-to-back to face-to-face with G-d, we will not know the ecstasy of love.
With people we experience intrinsic connection almost daily. For example, at those times when you show kindness to another person, the amount of connection you feel with that person may far surpass the act you did. Similarly, when you meet your soul mate, you may feel as if you have known him or her for many years. The reason for these feelings of connectedness is that we are not only one with G-d but we are all indeed one with each other; we just do not know we are one. Our challenge is to make the right choices and behave in ways that will reveal the oneness that we already existentially share.
This is an essential idea. It means that we do not have to do anything to earn our connection to G-d. And we do not have to earn G-d's love. We are one with Him this very moment and that connection can never be broken, no matter what we do. Our only problem is that we do not live a lifestyle that enables us to feel that truth. We have to behave in ways that acknowledge our oneness with G-d and experience G-d's love. All the Commandments of the Torah empower us to know this truth and experience the love we share with G-d.
When we are not conscious of our oneness with G-d and each other we feel at loss. We feel alienated, sad and lonely. In truth, we would never feel lonely if we had never been connected in the first place. You cannot miss something that you never had.
We may feel sad, lonely, removed, distanced, and alienated from people and G-d, even though we are all actually one, because our choices and behavior contradict that truth. When we behave in ways that do not affirm this oneness, like when we transgress a Commandment or when we think we are our own G-ds, by determining for ourselves what is good and what is evil, we are actually violating the truth of our oneness and begin to feel disconnected from G-d and others.
An odd thing happens when people disobey the will of G-d. A part of them feels good about doing what they feel like doing, while another part feels crummy. When Adam and Eve ate from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Bad, they considered it an act of self-assertion. "Yeah, we will do what we want to do," they thought to themselves. Immediately afterward, however, they felt lonely, weak and vulnerable. Essentially, they behaved in a way that undermined their connection to G-d and, therefore, violated who they really are in essence.
When we do a mitzvah when we choose to follow G-d's Commandments we reveal our oneness with G-d and others. We then begin to feel the mutual love between us, the greatest joy possible.
CONNECTING TO THE HOLIDAYS
The High Holidays that begin the Jewish year enable us to discover this truth and experience love and joy to the utmost. According to the Kabbalah, the period beginning with Rosh Hashanah, extending into Yom Kippur, followed by the Festival of Sukkos and ending with Simchas Torah, is an especially opportune time for realizing our ultimate and eternal connection to G-d and to each other. This period of time is the foundation upon which our entire year is built.
From Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur and on to Sukkos, the love relationship between G-d and us follows a process, described metaphorically in the Kabbalah as, separation, forgiveness, hugging, and kissing. By the time Simchas Torah arrives at the end of the holiday cycle, we are experiencing the deepest possible intimacy with G-d.
Rosh Hashanah and the days of penitence that follow help us with this preparation by focusing us on how we have failed and how we are judged. During this time, we feel the pain and bitterness in the distance that we have created between G-d and ourselves. We feel far from G-d alienated and lonely. And we feel embarrassed by our misdeeds. We wonder how we can ever face ourselves and G-d.
In order for us to feel love, we have to first experience loneliness. All of the bad dates we have gone on, help prepare us for the best possible date. All the mistakes that we have made in relationships, whether between people or between ourselves and G-d, can help us discover our true self and prepare us for a real and fulfilling relationship with G-d and each other.
On Yom Kippur, we finally come face-to-face with G-d and experience His forgiveness. Once the painful load of our wrongdoings and the embarrassment is off our heads, we begin to feel confident and joyful as we approach and prepare for Sukkos.
LOVE IS IN THE AIR
From Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur we acknowledge our failings, feel the pain of remorse and bitterly regret distancing ourselves from G-d. However, we also realize that the feelings inspired by these days of judgment actually support, empower and build us.
On Sukkos, G-d embraces us with an embrace of love. We prepare joyously throughout Sukkos for Simchas Torah when we celebrate the ultimate intimate connection with G-d as we dance joyously with the Torah. On that great day, we experience the unparalleled joy of knowing that G-d is one and we are one with G-d and each other. We then experience our own G-dliness and our true selves radiate with love. And we understand that love was always in the air, we just didn't know it was there.
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Rabbi David Aaron is the founder and dean of Isralight, an international organization with programming in Israel, New York South Florida, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and Toronto. He has taught and inspired thousands of Jews who are seeking meaning in their lives and a positive connection to their Jewish roots.
He is the author of the newly released, The Secret Life of G-d, and also the author of Endless Light, Seeing G-d and Love is my religion. (Click on link to purchase books. Sales help fund JWR.) He lives in the old City of Jerusalem with his wife and their seven children.
© 2004, Rabbi David Aaron