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Saying Goodbye to Your Old G-d

Sometimes, Being Close Means Feeling Far

    Rabbi YY Jacobson

    2408 views
  • May 18, 2012
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  • 26 Iyyar 5772

Copyright 2007 Bill Frymire

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Saying Goodbye to Your Old G-d - Sometimes, Being Close Means Feeling Far

Dedicated by David and Eda Schottenstein, in the loving memory of Alta Shula Swerdlov, the daughter of Rabbi Yossi and Hindel Swerdlov. And in the merit of Yetta Alta Shula, "Aliya," Schottenstein.

The Endless Quest

A story:

It was Simchat Torah, and the disciples of Rabbi Mendel of Horodok, many of whom had journeyed for weeks to spend the joyous festival with their Rebbe, were awaiting his entrance to the synagogue for the recital of the Atah Hor’eisa verses and the hakafot procession. Yet the Rebbe did not appear. Hours passed, and still Rabbi Mendel was secluded in his room.

Finally, they approached Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, who had studied with Rabbi Mendel in Mezeritch under the tutelage of the Great Maggid[1]. Perhaps Rabbi Schneur Zalman, who was revered and loved by Rabbi Mendel, would attempt what no other chassid would dare: enter the Rebbe’s room and ask him to join his anxiously awaiting followers.

When Rabbi Schneur Zalman entered Rabbi Mendel’s study, he found the chassidic master deeply engrossed in his thoughts. “The chassidim await you,” said Rabbi Schneur Zalman. “Why don’t you join them for the hakafot?”

“There are a hundred meanings to the verse Atah Hor’eisa,” cried Rabbi Mendel, “And I do not yet fully understand them all. I cannot possibly come out to recite the verse without a proper comprehension of its significance!”

“Rebbe!” said Rabbi Schneur Zalman. “When you will reach a full comprehension of the hundred meanings of Atah Hor’eisa, you will discover another hundred meanings you have yet to comprehend...”

“You are right,” said Rabbi Mendel, rising from his seat. “Come, let us go to hakafot.”

Throwing Out the Old?

An interesting verse in this week's second portion, Bechokosei, reads[2], "You will eat the very old [grain] and you will remove the old to make way for the new."

A homiletic interpretation of the verse understands "the very old" to symbolize G-d, who has "been around" since time immemorial and who represents eternity. One ought to eat and satiate one's hunger with "the very old" G-d [3].

Yet there comes a time in our life when we need to "remove the old to make way for the new." We should never get stuck in our old definitions of G-d. We must be ready to abandon our old perception of G-d for the sake of a more real and mature relationship with ultimate reality.

It is not always easy, but this is the path forward.

Our old definitions of G-d can become traps which stifle our creativity, hinder our growth, and keep us stuck in the quagmire of our fears, traumas and insecurities. G-d can become an opium, an excuse for not allowing ourselves to be challenged in a genuine way. Religion sadly becomes the factor which holds us back from an honest assessment of our lives and the courage to rethink our mistakes or dysfunction.

The only definition of G-d in Judaism is that He has no definition. This means that a relationship with G-d is the readiness to challenge every comfort zone, every addiction, every fixed paradigm. It is the openness to mystery and to the ultimate knowledge that “I do not know.”

Spiritual Frustration

A little while ago, a man approached me one morning in the synagogue and expressed his anguish over the fact that he does not experience G-d anymore in his life.

"When I originally became a baal-teshuvah (returnee to Jewish observance) many years ago," he said, "I felt an intimate relationship with G-d. I sensed His truth and His depth. "Today," the man continued, "I am still a practicing Jew. I put on teffilin each morning, I pray three times a day, I keep the Sabbath and I don't eat shrimp. But G-d is absent from my life. "How do I become a baal-teshuvah again?" the Jew wondered.

As I looked up at his face, I noticed a tear in his eye. I thought that he may be far better off than many people born and raised as observant Jews who have never shed a tear over G-d's absence from their lives. Many of us are even unaware of the fact that there exists a possibility to enjoy a genuine personal relationship with Hashem.

In the midst of our emotional conversation, I noticed on the table a 200-year-old Chassidic work titled "Noam Elimelech." I opened the book, authored by the 18th century Chassidic sage Rabbi Elimelech of Liszhensk [4], and randomly arrived at the Torah portion of this week, Bechukosai.

In his commentary to the first verse of the portion, the Chassidic master discusses an apparent lack of grammatical accuracy in the blessings that we recite daily. "Blessed are You, Lord our G-d," we say, "Who has sanctified us with His commandments."

Why do we begin the blessing by addressing G-d in second person, "Blessed are You," and then conclude it by addressing Him in third person, "Who has sanctified us with His commandments."?

The Paradox

In the beginning of one's spiritual journey, writes the saintly author, when first discovering G-d in one's life, Hashem seems very near. At that special moment of rediscovery, you feel that you "have G-d," that you grasp His depth, His truth, His grace. You and G-d are like pals. You cry to Him, you laugh with Him, you are vulnerable in His midst. Like one who is reunited with a best friend not seen in many years, you declare: "G-d! You're awesome." "Blessed are You."

But as you continue to climb the ladder of spiritual sensitivity, you come to discover the gulf between you and infinity. This is not a sign of distance, but of closeness. When you become close to truth, you can begin to sense how far you are from truth.

A deeper relationship with G-d allows you to sense the void and the distance. That void becomes the womb where a new relationship can be born[5]

Far But Near

It is this state of mind that the Prophet Isaiah is addressing when he says [6], "Peace, peace to him who is far and near, and I will heal him." How can one be both "far and near" simultaneously?

The Chassidic master Rabbi Elimelech answers that Isaiah is referring to the Jew who feels that he is far, but in truth he is near. The very fact that one senses is remoteness is indicative of his closeness. If he truly were to be distant, he would actually feel close!

When the first Jew Abraham is taking his son Isaac to the Akeida (the binding of Isaac) atop the sacred Mt. Moriah in Jerusalem, the Torah tells us[7] that "On the third day, Abraham looked up and saw the place from afar. Abraham said to his attendants, 'You stay here with the donkey, and I and the lad will go yonder, we will prostrate ourselves and then return to you.'"

Why did Abraham take his attendants along if he was to leave them behind anyway?  Because it was only Abraham who "looked up and saw the place from afar." Only Abraham realized how remote he still was from the Divine mountain. His attendants, on the other hand, actually thought that the place was near. At that moment, Abraham became aware of the vast sea separating his spiritual state from theirs; he knew that they were not ready yet to accompany him on his journey toward G-d.

Thus is the paradox of one's spiritual process. The closer you become, the further you must become. It is to this Jew, harboring deep humility and frustration, that G-d sent forth His promise: "I will heal he who is far and near."
 

[1] Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Horodok (also called Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk) and Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi were both disciples of the Great Maggid, Rabbi DovBer of Mezeritch, the second leader of the Chassidic movement. Following the Maggid’s passing in 1772, Rabbi Schneur Zalman regarded Rabbi Mendel as his master and mentor. In 1777, Rabbi Mendel led a group of more than 300 chassidim to settle in the Holy Land. Rabbi Schneur Zalman was originally part of the group, but Rabbi Mendel convinced him to remain behind and assume the leadership of the chassidic community in White Russia and Lithuania. This story and footnotes I copied from: https://www.meaningfullife.com/atah-horeisa/
[2] Leviticus 26:10.
[3] See Bas Ayin on Bechukosei (by Chassidic master Rabbi Avraham Dov of Avrutch. Rabbi Avraham passed away in 1841 in Sefad.) 
[4] Passed away in 1787. Rabbi Elimelech was a disciple of the Maggid of Mezrich and was considered to be one of the greatest tzaddikim of his generation. 
[5] This point is also quoted in the name of the Baal Shem Tov (Kesser Shem Tov section 39.) Cf. Tanya section 3 chapter 7.
[6] Isaiah 57:19.
[7] Genesis 22:4-5.

Please leave your comment below!

  • S

    shlomo -4 years ago

    It seems like an interesting article. However, I don't like the title: There is only one G-d.

    I does not sound kosher to me, although I see your point later in the article.

    Reply to this comment.Flag this comment.

  • C

    Chaya -4 years ago

    Becoming a Ba’al teshuva is the process of becoming conscious of a 
    G-d centered reality...this realization that everything is One eventually 
    forces us to adapt a certain lifestyle...however that is the superficial adaptation...the real challenge is to understand what WE must do to fulfill our Divine purpose. 
    and become the magnet to draw others into a G-dly existence as well.

    Reply to this comment.Flag this comment.

  • M

    Moshe -4 years ago

    Life/Hashem takes you where you need to go.

    Reply to this comment.Flag this comment.

  • Anonymous -4 years ago

    As usual thanks

     

    The Baal Shem Tov says (I read in Kesser Shem TOV) when God wants you, he first gives you a (spiritual) high - then he takes this away and you (kabalois oil) based on faith and humble acceptance, plod – but then you learn (like taking off the training wheels - forcing yourself to ride - ) how your small actions, bring delight

    Reply to this comment.Flag this comment.

  • S

    Shalom -4 years ago

    BH
    Yet there comes a time in our life when we need to "remove the old to make way for the new." We should never get stuck in our old definitions of G-d. We must be ready to abandon our old perception of G-d for the sake of a more real and mature relationship with ultimate reality.

    It is not always easy, but this is the path forward.

    Does this not contradict the need for
    האמונה הטהורה ונאמנה ביחודו ואחדותו יתברך ויתעלה...?!
    Perhaps the above paragraph of your article was written a little too daring?
    On the above quote from the end of Tanya Chinuch Katan, I was told (the great Reb Baruch Jacobson sheyichyeh) that Reb Mendel Futerfas illustrated this to mean like the simple faith of little children which is not tainted by human intellect.

    Reply to this comment.Flag this comment.

  • Y

    Yossi -4 years ago

    Great outlook for Bal Tshuvah's who miss the personal relationship with G-d

    Incredible article, especially for me. I've longed wondered why have I stalled at progressing in my relationship with G-d. The "opium" you speak of is like a drug that can't be touched again and you know that no matter what you do, there will never be that "first high" feeling again. This essay showed me, my relationship is now a different one with G-d. One that needs a whole new set of glasses. One much much harder yet at the same time incredibly more in depth.

    Reply to this comment.Flag this comment.

Essay Bechokosei

Rabbi YY Jacobson
  • May 18, 2012
  • |
  • 26 Iyyar 5772
  • |
  • 2408 views
  • Comment

Dedicated by David and Eda Schottenstein, in the loving memory of Alta Shula Swerdlov, the daughter of Rabbi Yossi and Hindel Swerdlov. And in the merit of Yetta Alta Shula, "Aliya," Schottenstein.

Class Summary:

Saying Goodbye to Your Old G-d - Sometimes, Being Close Means Feeling Far

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