Rav Chaim Chaikel of Hamdurah, zt”l, expended great efforts to fix his soul before finally becoming a student of the Maggid of Mezritch, zt”l. He fasted many days, did various self-mortifications and even stayed up one thousand nights in a row learning Torah diligently. Nevertheless, he felt that his soul lacked completion until he met the Maggid.
Daf Yomi Digest
Stories Off the Daf
“Absorbing the Flavor”
As a mother and the baby she holds in her arms, as a father and child, as two in courtship or in marriage, so we are with Him. One chases, the other runs away. One runs away, the other chases. One initiates, the other responds. The other initiates, the one responds. It is a dance, a game, a duet that plays as surely as the pulse of life.
Until one falls away and becomes estranged. Then the other looks and says, “This is not an other. We are one and the same.” And so, they return to each other’s arms once again.
It is a great mystery, but in estrangement, there is found the deepest bond.
Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Dance with the Other”
Yom Kippur Meditations
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson
I’m about four months into my current “experiment”; my expressions and self-discoveries in my “morning meditations”. I have been attempting to explore my Christianity through the lens of Judaism and have recently hit something of a speed bump. In pursuing the Journey of the Ger Toshav (you’ll have to read all three blog posts to get the full picture), I came to the realization (with some help, of course), that Christianity and Judaism are fully incompatible. I mean that in the sense that Jews consider Christians to be idol worshipers and polytheists in that (from a Jewish perspective) worship a man as “god” and worship three “gods”. Christians, for their part, see Jews as lost in a “dead, works-based, religion”, who have been abandoned by God and replaced with the church.
That’s a mess.
For my part, I see great beauty in the practices and teachings of Judaism, but all of that isn’t brought into focus without keeping Jesus as Savior, Messiah, and Lord at the heart of faith and trust.
I have been on a journey to discover two things. The first is obvious; a deeper and continuing relationship with God. The second may not have been readily apparent and is a form of community and fellowship. I left my previous community for a variety of reasons, including the desire to worship and study with my wife within her own faith context. So far that hasn’t worked out. I am, or I thought I was, positioned to enter into her realm, but if being a Christian makes my presence unacceptable in the Jewish world, then my desire will never work out.
Of course, I’m only four months into this journey and I have promised myself to wait a full year (barring an encounter with a complete show-stopper) before pursuing a different course in my faith. Still, sometimes the journey is dark and the fog starts to hide the path.
The Days of Awe are just made for intense self-reflection and sometimes self-doubt, it seems. As Rabbi Freeman says above, there’s this “push-pull” engagement with God that is especially acute right now, but it spills over into human relationships, too. But if I have no union with a community, can I still seek a union with God?
The desire to return is innate, but it must be awakened. The soul must first realize she is distant. Return in all its strength and passion is found, therefore, in the soul who has wandered far from her true self and then awakened to recognize she is lost. We are like the child being pushed on a swing by her father — the further our souls are thrust away, the greater the force of our return.
“G-d’s Fishing Net”
Yom Kippur Meditations
But is the effort to “swing back” to God a dance or a fight?
As we find on today’s daf, gid hanasheh was prohibited since the time of Yaakov Avinu. It is surely interesting that the angel chose to fight specifically with Yaakov. Why don’t we find that Avraham or Yitzchak had an altercation with a heavenly representative of evil?
The Vilna Gaon, zt”l, learns a very powerful lesson from this. “Avraham Avinu was especially involved in kindness. And Yitzchak was very focused on avodas Hashem, on prayer and meditation. The first two avos were not attacked by an angel since focusing on doing good deeds or praying is not so threatening to the yetzer hara. As our sages revealed, Hashem said, ‘I created the yetzer hara and I created the Torah to temper it.’ Yaakov focused on learning Torah. It is clear that this is why he was attacked. The yetzer hara can tolerate anything else. But when it comes to learning Torah he puts up a much greater fight since only Torah is an assault upon its very existence.”
Daf Yomi Digest
Stories Off the Daf
“Fighting Against the Angel”
That’s midrash of course, but makes a point. Anything worth having is worth fighting for, especially a relationship with God. Our human natures and human beings around us will always resist devotion to God and walking in His ways, instead taking us down into the abyss. Yet the part of us made in God’s own image creates an irresistible need to rise from the depths. It’s like taking a beach ball and pushing it underwater in a swimming pool; the further under the surface you push it, the greater the ball’s push to return to the air.
There’s a well known idiom in Hebrew that says, “Yeridah Letzorech Aliyah” meaning “descent for the sake of ascent”. With the approach of Yom Kippur and at this moment in my life, the trail has taken a downward turn. The shadows are lengthening and the air contains a freezing fog. Yet, the path must eventually turn upward again toward the sun. Perhaps then, in my pursuit of holiness and community, I’ll find myself dancing with God on Yom Kippur.
In the end, hope is the only tool that works when all other tools fail, but even hope can be a slender thread.