A sermon preached on Rosh HaShanah Evening, September 4, 2013
This is the birthday of the world. Among other things, this day, Rosh HaShanah, is the commemoration of the creation of the world by G-D. One does not have to be a Biblical literalist to believe the miracle of existence should be celebrated. Forget flashy subversions of natural law, unconsumed burning bushes, and splitting seas. The fact that we are, that anything is, is sufficiently amazing to cause us all, from time-to-time, to stop in wonder and to marvel.
That there is something, we know. What some of that stuff is, from pine cones to pandas, we learn more of every day. But why? Why are we?
It can be considered a futile task to try to say anything about G-D, for what can we say that we know is true? Yet, each individual is a puzzle to him or herself and the question of why; why am I? Will arise in the mind suddenly and unexpectedly for some and constantly for others. But even before the question of individual purpose, we can ask the corporate question. Why are we? Why are there human beings or, on some planet circling a distant start, why are there any thinking feeling beings like us?
I have a proposal, a gut feeling that has been with me for decades. G-D was lonely. The Soul of Creation wanted someone to love, to communicate with. I know that this implies some lack in the Creator of Heaven and Earth. But while we have from time-to-time, from Saadia Gaon to Maimonides onto the modern day, embraced philosophy and found our way to the perfect, unchanging philosopher’s god, this was not the G-D with whom we sought relationship in our joys and in our sorrows.
It was the G-D of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah we cried out to in our despair and who we somehow knew shared our tears of joy in moments of triumph or exultation. This G-D, who we can speak of as the friend of Abraham, this G-D we can imagine being lonely. And so, here we are.
Do not get me wrong. I am not saying The Soul of Creation is like a lonely and despairing fifteen year old girl who becomes pregnant to have someone to love and someone to love her. This child is having a child to have a living doll, a pet. It does not occur to the young girl that this baby will differentiate itself from her. Rather, think of an adult woman, who seeks to have a child, well aware of the challenges and responsibilities, but is also aware of joys of watching that child come into his or her own. Indeed, the adult woman knows she is opening herself up to the possibility of greater pain and fear than she has known before. She also embarks on child bearing and child rearing knowing that the goal is a differentiated person, a mature, whole separate person. Those of us with adult children who have become distinct, caring people, know the amazing joy of moving into a position of friendship with our children.
Let us see G-D as such a woman, such a mother. She knows, before we exist as a species, that we will disappoint and we will rebel. Furthermore, She knows that such rebellions are part of the path to full personhood. So, in our mythic past, when we enter the terrible twos by eating the fruit and being exiled from the safe playpen of Eden, that was as it should have been.
Our purpose is to grow and to mature fully into our role as cocreators with The Most High. Not to become little gods, but to become worthwhile company to that which is beyond our full understanding. The mystics will say we are never fully apart from G-D, but I feel deeply within myself, that as attached as we are to The Holy One, it is our purpose to become as fully ourselves as we are able.
It is good to remember that a parent loves his or her child through dirty diapers, drawn on walls, broken windows, teenage rebellions, and on and on. Indeed, in creating, G-D opens the door to pain as does any human parent. G-D suffers with us, as a parent does. The mystics teach that G-D’s presence, the Shachina, went into exile with us after our Temple was destroyed-a parent sharing her children’s pain. I like the image of writer Lois McMaster Bujold. Her character, speaking of her lover, says, “When he is cut, I bleed.” So to does the Holy One bleed with us, when His/Her children are cut.
We can interpret some of our most fundamental texts to support this. I was privileged this summer to study Torah with R. Dr. Leila Gal Berner. We looked at the Sh’ma and Veahavtah. In Shema Yisroeal Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai echad, the early 20th century philosopher, Herman Cohen interpreted Echad not as one, but as alone. But in Cohen’s case, he meant alone in the sense of singular and unique.
R. Leila interprets echad as alone in the plain sense of the word. That is, there is no one with whom G-D can be in relation. G-D is alone and, indeed, lonely. Now, R. Leila goes on, in light of this interpretation of echad as alone, to read the beginning of the Veahavtah:
You must love The Eternal, your G-D, with your whole heart, with every breath, and with all you have.
This is not a command. This is a plea, a cry to be loved. This is Divine pathos. Holy love for us is given unconditionally as, in a healthy parenting relationship, the parent’s love for the child is unconditional. But The Holy One, The Alone One, The Lonely One, is the parent, ever hoping for His/Her child to return that love and, in the fullness of time, to return that love with a growing level of maturity and understanding. As we each wish to be seen, in-so-far as we can, as finite beings,
G-D wishes to be seen by us.
The Theology of creation implicit in all of this is that G-D created both out of a desire to love and be loved, an awareness of aloneness, and a willingness to pay the price of pain and disappointment for the eventual payoff of independent, free-willed beings with whom to be in relation. Our purpose in this schema is to be loved and to love. We are to pierce the veil of separateness that we perceive between us and The Holy, to see and be seen. We are to mature as a species and as individuals to be worthy partners of The Holy One.
But, as does any theology, this has implications in terms of our ethics and our behavior. If we wish to answer the call to love The Eternal, your G-D, with your whole heart, with every breath, and with all you have, how are we to do so?
Whether we believe that we are each distinct individuals, enholied by the breath of G-D by our very natures, each containing a spark of The Divine; or we believe that we are no more separate from G-D than an individual wave is from the ocean, each human being partakes of The Holy. So it is, that our easiest, most common encounter with G-D is in facing our fellow human beings. In being face-to-face with our fellow, we are face-to-face with G-D.
Thus, if we are to heed the call to love G-D, we must, as a matter of course, love our fellow human beings. If we are to care for G-D, we must care for those around us. If we are to pierce the wall of aloneness around The Holy One, we must reach out of our own aloneness, not only to the singularity of The Creator, but into the prisons of loneliness that trap our neighbors. The simplest, though perhaps not the easiest, way to love G-D is love our neighbor. Note that implicit in this, as we are to love our neighbor as we love ourselves, and we are to love our neighbor as a means of loving G-D, we must, even in our deepest place of despair and brokenness, find a way each to love him or herself.
Furthermore, if love, as it should, implies action, then we must strive to demonstrate our love both in compassionate action and an adherence to justice and righteousness in our actions.
But G-D is not merely reflected in our fellow human beings. As the Psalmist says, there is no place without G-D. All of creation speaks to us of the Holy One. We are but travelers in a world that is both surely G-D’s and the birthright of future generations. As such, if we are to love G-D, we must love G-D’s creation and tread lightly as we pass through the world; preserving what we can and ever mindful of our roles as lovers and cocreators, strive to repair what is broken.
So it is on this, the birthday of the world, we ask, why are we here? We respond, we are to love G-D and be loved. We ask, how can we love G-D, so mysterious and beyond our ability to fully grasp with either mind or heart? We can love G-D by loving both our fellows and ourselves, each of which partakes of The Holy One in their very natures. We can love and care for the creation that is the Handiwork of The Eternal.
Let us be the children beaming love back to our Holy Parent by demonstrating our love for one and other, causing Her/Him to rejoice in our becoming more fully the individuals we are meant to be; our best selves, ever growing and maturing.
May you, may we all, be inscribed for a year of blessing and meaning, a year of discovering ever deepening capacities to love, and a year of bringing forth the love of others through our own acts of loving kindness and so breach the veil of loneliness between human and human and human and G-D.