Rabbis Without Borders
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Our tradition teaches that every Friday evening God implants an added measure of spirituality in each of us, in the form of an extra soul that is all perfection — fashioned according to the pattern of the World to Come. And as the sky darkens every Saturday night, that spirit is taken from us, at the Sabbath’s end, and returned to God.
Rabbi Zvi Elimelekh of Dynow taught that when the supernal souls return to the upper realm they all assemble in the presence of the Holy One of Blessing and are asked to share the insights of Torah they learned from us human beings during their sojourn in the lower world. In this way, God learns about the completion of Her Torah from our enactment of it. In this way, wisdom from this lower world is raised up, closing the gap between earth and heaven.
Zvi Elimelekh’s imagining of a weekly debrief on High comes to illustrate that God expects to learn from us, and perhaps we can think of our yearly interview before the celestial court, during these High and Holy days, as less about judgment and more about God’s desire to catch up and close that gap. If we are judged, it is for the ways in which our misdeeds have interfered with ease of flow between heaven and earth, clogging the conduits that stream divine energy into the world, and putting up barriers that render God lonely.
When asked where does God live, Reb Menachem Mendel of Kotzk famously said,“Only where we let God in.” When we forget God, She is deprived the beauty of our human-ness.
Once Reb Dov Ber of Mezritch was out for an evening stroll, in the company of his disciples. They came upon a little girl hiding in an alcove, weeping. “Why are you crying, little girl?” asked the Rebbe, “I was playing hide-and-seek with my friends,” replied the little girl, “but they didn’t come looking for me!” Reb Dov Ber sighed and turned to his students, saying: “In the tears and the plight of this little girl, I hear the weeping of the Shechinah. God is weeping: ‘I have hidden myself, but no one comes looking for me…’ ”
Teshuvah is a return to our high dreams of ourselves, and it is our return, home, to our lonely God, who is waiting to gather us in and hear about our year.
As we make our way home, this year, let’s try to see ourselves through God’s eyes, filled with loving anticipation, eyes sad with loneliness, seeing with desire rather than judgment. Let’s try to see ourselves as the amazing beings our God wants to hear from, as prodigals returning to report on our adventures and discoveries. This year, let’s bring the gift of our lives, just as we have lived them, as offers of relationship.
The Slonimer Rebbe taught that we must delve deep in our Teshuvah, but only as much as we are able. Our heartfelt efforts will open the tiniest points in us, openings the size of the tip of a needle. With this, the Holy One will be moved to open our souls wide, like entrances to a great palace.
We find in this teaching what we saw in the B’nei Yisasschar’s teaching about God waiting for the return of the Sabbath-souls so that She can learn Torah from us: God is reaching out, straining toward us in divine desire to work together toward Teshuvah, toward repair of our relationship, toward sweet alignment.
*Original artwork by Rabbi Hannah Dresner
Pronounced: tuh-SHOO-vah, (oo as in boot) Origin: Hebrew, literally “return”, referring to the “return to God” teshuvah is often translated as “repentance.” It is one of the most significant themes and spiritual components of the High Holidays.