Miracles, they say, are where you find them. The Rabbis instituted a prayer – recited morning, afternoon and evening – which blesses God for “the miracles that are with us each and every day.” Certainly, that sentiment is true in Israel. Could we exist for even one moment in this precarious paradise without a steady stream of Heavenly help? We tend to react only when things go bad, not understanding that what we take for granted as normal, routine and expected is in reality exceptional and extraordinary, a benevolent gift from God.
Of all the blessings that surround us, perhaps the most precious and celebrated is love. Love comes in all shapes and sizes, colors and categories. We love our family, our homes, our jobs, our country, our favorite sports team. We almost certainly love ourselves – at least a little! But the deepest love is the one we share with our soul mate, our spouse and partner in life. Just as Adam was separated at creation from Eve and then compelled to reunite with her again, we remain emotionally and spiritually unfulfilled until we merge with our “other half.”
Our family is blessed to be celebrating the weddings of two of our beautiful daughters over the next two weeks. Like most love stories, their search for their bashert is star-studded.
One met her hatan in uniform; he had petitioned the army to come back into service as a commander after completing five years of hesder yeshiva/military service.
She was performing holy work by assisting lone soldiers and those from poor or broken families. She traded her khakis for kalla-white; he agreed to take orders rather than just give them.
Our other son-in-law-to-be is a Birthright success story. He came to Israel from America, fell in love first with the land, and then with the lassie (she claims to have a bit of Irish blood in her; this explains her affinity for enjoying a wee bit of Irish whiskey at every Shabbat kiddush). They met in the trenches of Tel Aviv, where the singles scene can be among the most grueling experiences in the country. Both involved in hi-tech, they progressed from Facebook-to-Facebook to face-to-face, and the rest is – or will be – history.
These miraculous events are taking place in the days of Elul, the month that is popularly associated with the words “Ani L’Dodi V’Dodi Li,” I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine. It is a period of intense devotion to God in advance of the Days of Awe – Rosh Hashana through Yom Kippur – much like the whirlwind courtship period that precedes actual matrimony. We increase our prayers during this time, we engage in self-evaluation, and we lose a lot of sleep, arising early or staying up late to recite the special penitential prayers. Our year – in essence, our life – is about to be “rebooted” and started anew. All this seems very apropos for bride and groom.
In fact, the entire 40-day period from the first of Elul through the final shofar blast of Yom Kippur has a distinct wedding motif.
There is the wearing of white, exemplified by the kittel robe worn on both Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. There is the entrance into the mikve before Kol Nidre, the only time during the year when males are technically required to immerse, even as females immerse before the wedding night. There is the fasting on the Day of Atonement, just as bride and groom fast before their marriage ceremony. Sins are forgiven, the slate is wiped clean, and a new creation emerges, eyes fixated now on the future rather than the past.
In essence, what is occurring here is the marriage between God and His people Israel.
God is the strong and steadfast Hatan, sworn by the ketuba (read: Torah) to safeguard and support us; and we are the blushing, beautiful kalla, faithfully following Him into unsown territory and adventures unknown, living on love and tethered by absolute trust. We finally figure out that alone, we may wander in a wilderness of angst and alienation; but united, we can discover the marvelous world and limitless joy that, lo and behold, was in front of us all the time.
The Rabbis instituted certain Torah portions to be read during the High Holy Days.
On Rosh Hashana, we read about the birth of Isaac, as Sarah and Abraham’s heartfelt prayers for a child together are finally answered.
Similarly, we read about the prayer of Hannah who, like Sarah, gives birth to a child – Samuel – at an advanced age. We also read about the Akeda, the binding of Isaac, Abraham’s supreme test of faith, and the Prophet Jeremiah’s promise that the dispersed shall ultimately be gathered together into Israel and regain the Almighty’s grace.
On Yom Kippur, the morning portion describes Aaron the High Priest’s service in the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement, echoed by Isaiah’s call to combine fasting with social action for human rights. Perhaps the most famous reading comes later in the day, when the entire Book of Jonah is read, pointedly sending the message that God hears all prayers, even those from inside a giant fish at the bottom of the ocean.
While all these portions are eminently appropriate and fitting for the occasion, one other reading – that of Yom Kippur afternoon – seems strange and out of place. Taken from the Book of Leviticus, it details the various unions (incest, adultery, etc.) which are forbidden to the Jewish people.
Rabbis have long struggled to understand why this specific subject was chosen, and few answers seem to satisfy. But I suggest the reason is clear: What ultimately matters most is not so much what sins we confess, or even what pledges we take for the future. At the end of the day – or better, the 40 days – the only truly important question is: Do we want to have a meaningful relationship with God? If we don’t, then no amount of repentance or self-flagellation really matters. But if we do want to reconnect with our Creator, if we truly seek a pure and holy union with God, then all will be forgiven and all the wrongs will have been righted.
I could not be more proud of my darling daughters, and I wish for them every possible blessing in their new life ahead. But in a sense, all of us are currently standing under the bridal huppa, in the midst of our own wedding ceremony with the Almighty.
Let the music play, let the faces shine, and let the words of the traditional seven wedding blessings ring out for all of us: “Rejoice and be happy, lovers and friends, and let us recreate the glory of the Garden of Eden.”■ The writer is director of the Jewish Outreach Center of Ra’anana; firstname.lastname@example.org