December 5, 2023 -
This message on “If Not Now, When?” the interactive blog of Anshe Chesed Fairmount Temple is from Rabbi Andi Berlin, guest rabbi, shared on Rosh Hashanah, 2020.
In a swirl, in a mess, in total chaos and disorder, a burst of (what was it? Flame, fire, light?), God began to create…
And from this shaping, from this form, this emerging of earth and shadow and lake, from this building and growing, God created…us. A thought from the chaos, a being who could love and mourn and cry and laugh, God created the mystery of us that would become you, that became me.
According to Zohar, the book of Jewish mysticism, God created us all at once, a single SOUL, you, me, every human born and moving on this earth, existed together, not as individual spirits, but as a mass of oneness.
Our own soul only becomes a clearly defined individual when we begin to form in the womb.
What must this have been like for us, to be separated so suddenly from the entirety of who we were, from the entirety of humanity! With what loneliness, and longing must we have been born?
I believe it is a loneliness humans work to avoid our entire live. We do this through our connections with other pieces of this one vast soul we used be. In this time of pandemic, in this time of separation from others, it is more important than ever that we consciously and purposely bring our souls back together; back together with our loved ones and with others in community who need our outreach.
Research has proven, in a myriad of different ways, that human beings’ need for social connection is equal to our need for oxygen, water, and food. Lack of social contact causes deprivation to our physical, emotional, and spiritual health just as lack of water depletes our system and can cause short- and long-term damage.
So first, on this day of Rosh Hashanah, this day of introspection and soul searching…be kind to yourself. Even as some of us are starting to venture out into the world, socially distanced of course, our level of human interaction has been dramatically decreased. Whether we realize it or not, we are depleted in ways society will only begin to understand when all of this over.
Second, for the sake of our health and the health of others, we have to find whatever way we can for our souls to meet each other again.
So, as exhausting as it is, we must start a conscience practice of SOUL CONNECTION.
We all know how it feels when our soul truly meets another, the deep, loving connection to another human being – a friend with whom we can be fully ourselves, a sibling who sees and knows our heart, a teacher or parent who supports us no matter what.
The stress we are all under right now puts a strain on even the healthiest of relationships. The way we stand in relationship with those closest to us requires a higher level of patience than usual. When our children were babies and far from sleeping through the night, my husband and I had a rule. Whatever we said to each other between the hours of midnight and 5 am wouldn’t “count.” We knew we were both exhausted and exasperated. We couldn’t express our anger at the tiny creature depriving us of much needed sleep, so we had a tendency to take it out on each other.
All of 2020 exists between midnight and 5 am. We are all exhausted, anxious, and exasperated. With those closest to us, we must be extra forgiving. Holding resentment for how our loved one experiences their anxiety stands as a barrier between our souls. It makes it hard to fully meet soul to soul. Be gentle with each other. Be forgiving. Perhaps schedule a daily or weekly time to spend with one another…with no agenda or expectation. Just be together.
Our souls need more than just those to whom we are closest. We crave community, as well.
Because we are not leading services from the temple, Celia Hollander Lewis, Charlie Lewis and I made the decision to see everyone’s face on Zoom. I do not know if this is the right way to lead Rosh Hashanah services, we have never had to do this remotely before. I do know that my own experience of God during High Holidays includes seeing all of you. There is a unique holiness to praying on my own and in isolation, I often crave doing so. But on this day? On this day of coming together when the Torah specifically tells us to be in “great assembly”? On this day, my soul would be lost if it tried to reach God without you. Perhaps this is because, while striving to reach the divine, we need the strength we had when we were all a single soul, an entity existing with divine countenance. We recognize each other in this search for our origin.
Being here together on Zoom, though, is not enough. We are seeing each other briefly, and then retreating back into our isolated homes.
Our souls will be left yearning – they will be left craving connections with others. Some may live alone or perhaps there is tension with the people they do live with.
During normal times, we are interfacing not just with our loved ones, but with strangers and acquaintances. We run into people during our daily routine and interact with others in the normal course of business. I miss the loud, tearful laughter I enjoy with our dry cleaner and the political check-ins the gas station manager and I have. These may seem insignificant, but these interactions create in us a sense of belonging, a sense of community.
Replicating these types of encounters can be exhausting, but missing them is actually detrimental to our health.
At the beginning of the shelter-in-place, I know many of us began reaching out to see how neighbors and fellow community members were doing. It is important we continue these reach-outs to those we know might be particularly lonely; people who are sheltering alone, people who do not have friends and family around them, people who are not working. We are taught in the Talmud, the compilation of Jewish law, “Kol Yisrael Arevim zeh bazeh”, that all of Israel is responsible one for another. We broaden this as and understand that we are responsible for others in our community.
We have to continue contacting neighbors and fellow community members.
These attempts at connection might be awkward. Our social norms have not yet caught up to this new reality we are in. We can start with a simple phrase, “Hi, I’m Andi, your neighbor. It’s been such a challenging time and I’m trying to connect with others.” I’m trying to connect with others.
Loneliness is a companion that always walks close to humanity. This pandemic has invited loneliness to pull up a chair and stay for a while.
One of the most profound stories of relationship is from 1st Samuel. Jonathan was willing to risk his life for David. How does the Bible describe their love?
In 1st Samuel, Chapter 18:1, we are told, “ונפש יהונתן נקשרה בנפש דוד” – “and the soul of Jonathan, neeksharah, became enmeshed with the soul of David”. David and Jonathan’s souls existed together as part of ONE GREAT soul above the heavens, and when they loved each other here on earth, their souls met, their souls recognized each other and became bound up together.
Our souls, too, bind with others. Our souls recognize each other from the time when we were One. It is this moment of recognition and love that will support us through what has been and continues to be a devastating time.
May each of us be filled with the profound impact of meeting other parts of our soul.
כן יהי רצון
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