Rabbis Without Borders
Rabbis Without Borders is a dynamic forum for exploring contemporary issues in the Jewish world and beyond. Written by rabbis of different denominations, viewpoints, and parts of the country, Rabbis Without Borders is a project of Clal – The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership.
Here in Vancouver the weather is still mild, but today I saw my first red maple leaf. Fall has arrived and with it the season of death-ness and alive-ness, these Days of Awe. This is the season of internal harvest as we identify and savor what Reb Nachman of Bratslav called our nekudot tuvah, our particles of goodness, and weed out whatever intrudes upon our further growth.
Although we surely hope to be written and sealed in the Book of Life, we do confront the death, as it were, of aspects of self, sloughing, in what can be a painful letting go, of whatever’s blocking our renewal. The death-ness of the season makes way for its alive-ness; if we don’t release, nothing new can emerge.
The Book of Ezekiel tells of a river in Babylonia called Nahar Kvar, the river Kvar. “Kvar” means “already,” as in what is already known, what has already come to pass. And the river’s name is said to hint that the true nature of exile is to be mired in kvar, to be “clinging to the old with no freedom in the present for newness or movement,” no ability to imagine a different or better future. And so we clean ourselves out so that we might, indeed, flow into our futures, choosing life.
Just as divine energy is described in the Zohar as a river flowing from Eden, liquid and irrigating, we, too, have our own shefa, our own flow that requires a clean vessel to hold our spiritual nourishment, and clean conduits by which we extend our flow into the world – to do good.
This purification, in preparation for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, has been likened to cleaning for Pesach, when we check every nook and cranny for whatever is fermenting. But there is a caveat: the Talmud says, check for leavening in the little holes and cracks, but just as far as your hand can reach – and what you can’t reach, nullify in your heart. Just let it go! The Slonimer Rebbe says: delve into yourself as much as you can and this will open you like the tip of a needle. And then, the Holy One will be moved to open up your soul like the entrance to a great palace.
It’s important to remember the teaching from the Ethics of our Fathers that while we mustn’t desist from the work, it’s also not ours to complete.
There’s grace in our return to the deepest core of ourselves, and to God. God is reaching out to receive her prodigal children, and our highest dreams of ourselves are, likewise, reaching toward us because it’s natural to return to our natural states of goodness.
Reb Nachman goes farther, worrying that the process of self examination can be destructive if we’re too self critical, so he introduces the notion of harvesting the nekudot tuv-ah, instructing us to seek out and find in ourselves one particle of goodness, to isolate and celebrate it, to truly see ourselves in its light, and then to find another, and another, integrating each evidence of goodness into our senses of self.
This is the process teshuvah – coaxing sparks of divinity out of the dark recesses our souls.
The Zohar describes the creation of the world as a rose coming into bloom, unfolding layer after layer of petals. I like to think that we, too, are revealed in such a fashion, opening more and more each year and closer and closer to our centers.
There’s death-ness and alive-ness even in this image, as those petals that have already opened are in the process of withering even as the next layer of petals unfurl and open to the light.
Let’s think of our particles of goodness as dewdrops, droplets of our shefa, divine flow, glistening on each and every petal.
V’chein yehi ratzon. May it be so.
Pronounced: roshe hah-SHAH-nah, also roshe ha-shah-NAH, Origin: Hebrew, the Jewish new year.
Pronounced: TALL-mud, Origin: Hebrew, the set of teachings and commentaries on the Torah that form the basis for Jewish law. Comprised of the Mishnah and the Gemara, it contains the opinions of thousands of rabbis from different periods in Jewish history.
Pronounced: yohm KIPP-er, also yohm kee-PORE, Origin: Hebrew, The Day of Atonement, the holiest day on the Jewish calendar and, with Rosh Hashanah, one of the High Holidays.
Pronounced: ZOE-har, Origin: Aramaic, a Torah commentary and foundational text of Jewish mysticism.