Yom Kippur 5774: Rousing the Righteous, Raising the Kindness
So the LORD God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh. Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. The man said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman, for she was taken out of man.”
That is why a man leaves his father and mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh. Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame. Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say,‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden?’” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’” “You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.
Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden. But the LORD God called to the man, “Where are you?” He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.”
Genesis chapter 2:21 – 3:10
No one knows which of us is closer or farther from G-d. We do know that everyone is guided by specific signs that lead us to a more perfect refinement, step by step.. All this of course is G-d’s close and loving signposts to each of us personally, if we are receptive. This life’s purpose is to advance and grow; always grow. G-d is the first partner in our creation, then our father and our mother. We might ignore these signs, but they will return and recur. The problem is we often don’t know how to read them. We may find clues by unlikely sources.
Torah means instruction. Thats why Torah contends with Horah (parent), which leads to Morah (teacher), which all comes back to Orah (the supernal light), the image of G-d blown in through the nose to Adam and Eve at the primordial moment of human creation.
On this day Kippurim we are instructed to lose body focus. One day every year we rehearse our own Day of Judgement at the end of our lives. We cannot eat or drink, wash, perfume ourselves, wear leather or have sexual connection on this day. What aggrandizes the body is diminished through the senses. We are more aware of the body unknown to us with all its needs unmet. But that is the point of this discovery. In my current rock bottom physical condition I miss so deeply the control of gentility in touch. To give over my softness is the sense I crave most. The laws of Yom Kippur keep us alone and in solitary distance from how we naturally relate. We all are fragile and vulnerable and exposed on the tenth of Tishrei. We have a chance to return to the bone of the matter. Just what is it that we know?
The passion play in the bible of Adam and Eve interacting with G-d and the injunction not to eat of the fruit of Knowledge of Good and Evil/Bad replays itself when we seek to understand our soul and body connection. It was G-d that cloaked Adam and Eve with leather. The midrash reports that they were born with translucent skin like our fingernails. But in their defiance they knew themselves, newly as naked. Today, we all stand before G-d naked and exposed.
It is very important for the Rabbis to insist in their midrashim that two seminal figures of the bible were born circumcised: Adam, the primordial man and Moses, the humblest prophet of the Jewish people. The circumcised membrane on the Jewish male newborn presents a partnership, a covenant, a bris with G-d that to create life with a woman, man must never use his stronger power to overpower her. Power in Judaism is never to oppress, but to uplift. Within Jewish communities, the downtrodden must be upheld, life is for protection and enduring love for the delicate, fragile, and vulnerable. Judaism teaches that man should seek the splendor of beauty found deep within a woman, through her instinctive mothering qualities of compassion and exquisite kindness, as it’s recited when men put tefillin onto their weaker arm every morning: “I betrothe myself to you forever. I betrothe myself to you with righteousness and justice; I betrothe myself to you with kindness and sublime compassion.” Generally men attend to society concerns of justice among us and interactions of families to families. And generally women focus on inner family development, teaching compassion within its dynamics, adopting an adult connection and responsibility for each other. The home we are born into and the childhood we retain within us sustains a lifelong manner to recreate home with similar ideas of affection and compassion. Of course all people have various mixtures of harshness and gentility; self-serving approaches and a reach for holy righteousness. Male and female, we have all variables but the model is towards an angelic good. Judaism aims to feminize our boys and men, developing in them a glory towards kindness – gmilut chassadim. Rabbis must exemplify these traits.
Our sages teach there are two forms of knowledge. Firstly, knowledge is meant to discern between what promotes closeness to G-d and what distances from Him. This is what is meant by the injunction not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil/Bad. Evil keeps G-d apace, the good draws us nearer. The other form of knowledge, the Torah explains is intimate knowledge. The Torah says Adam knew his wife and then the child birthing began its process. This is how life is in partnership with G-d. Creation happens through soul-to-soul knowledge between two self-contained neshamas becoming loftier together, each the other’s helpmate, and mirroring together, as opposed to biological procreation, which stays grounded.
It is so strange to read the story of the fall of Adam and Eve on account of eating fruit. Could this really be defiance to the Creator of the universe? Additionally, the text says that Eve saw the beauty of the fruit and therefore wanted to consume it. It was sight over taste that was the undoing. What is it that we really want when we take things not given to us? What are we trying to find? What is missing for our need to feel complete? What is lacking? On Yom Kippur we try to get to the bare bones of the matter. Who am I? What is there there at essence? I obviously have these questions in me swirling and echoing throughout my body. Where is the I inside my I? In other words how do I know that I have a soul, and where do I place it?
These many questions have quick and easy answers: G-d did make the foods for humankind, absolutely with aesthetics in mind. They must be delicious to taste and beautiful to behold. What they hadn’t learned yet was to make a brachah over the food. The Rabbis say that if we don’t make a bracha, it is as if we are stealing it. One must acknowledge always that we partake in all sustenance by the grace of G-d’s bounty for us. We should want things not because we don’t have, but only because we appreciate them, need them; advance life because of the gift. What is lacking is our courage to grow beyond ourselves. This, G-d insists is what we must do as we live another day. At this very point is the moment to understand the beauty of saying to G-d I am helpless, I need you and is to feel G-d compassion and empathy, is to understand that G-d does want us to be his partner in furthering the world. No one is an equal partner with G-d, we are all junior partners, but when we find like-minded friends willing to grow in G-d’s image, we create communing together. We have glimpsed the breath of life, blown into Adam and Eve, continuing through the ages into us and this bit of heavenly honor is the soul that we carry and know. All of life is to protect that once-glimpsed truth.
Today our senses have been working in withdrawal. We do not taste. We minimize fragrance and color. White is the absence of a variety of hues. We are told to seek the still small voice inside us. A real prayer is recited in silence like the Amida. We are living a full day of sensory deprivation just to find what is real at core. And there we present ourselves to the G-d we think we know and who we want to judge us. This is our judgement on Judgement Day, today. Today we establish the breadth of our value system, our referent point (which should be doing the will of the Creator of all) and our ownership of what our effect is in G-d’s world, which is not our own.
Chapter two of the book of Genesis ends with the sentence “A man leaves his father and mother and cleaves to his wife.” This is called in Hebrew “dveikut,” just as the soul in all of us attempts to cleave to G-d – “dveikut.” The next chapter begins with the statement that the snake was the most conniving/naked of all creatures. We wonder why was the snake at the very center of paradise, wrapped around the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil/Bad? How did G-d allow Evil there at all? And where was Adam who was supposed to be cleaving to Eve during her exchange with the snake? Adam was told previously that he couldn’t eat from the tree of Knowledge, but Eve wasn’t given that restriction. It was when Adam ate the fruit indiscriminately that a spiritual death was introduced to humankind. What looked good to Eve was a poisonous death knell to Adam. Yet Adam chose to cleave to Hava, above all. These are the inside perils of all choices. Adam Harishon chose closeness to Hava at the expense of closeness to the Holy one, his Creator. But both are “dveikut.” However, this was the point of no return to Eden.
Eden in Hebrew means delight, but we know there is heavenly delight and animal delight. We, human beings, can decide whether we are at base beast-like or angelic. We humans choose to either control our universe, which is what animals do, or to trust any universe we inherit from G-d and grow to stature and substance within. G-d is the gardener of Eden, and we, our lives, are its produce. The moral tenor of our actions make the senses replete. Our actions, when honoring, have a sweet savor to G-d. G-d hears the language of our heart and signals an acceptance when He sees that we are genuine. Our genuinity is something we are never truly sure of. Have we learned these truths within our essence? Sometimes they are merely costumes and approximations of what we think is our sincerity.
G-d calls out to Adam: Tell me what you know? Tell me where your soul is? He hears the emptiness in Adam’s reply: I am naked. Meaning, I have no soul. The Almighty finds Adam and Eve clutching each other, trembling and hiding, exposed but hidden from themselves, trusting nothing. Their translucent sparks lost its luster, so then G-d clothed them with skin (that covers us to this day). They had become conniving now, more like the snake and lessened to their image of G-d. Therefore they were evermore to be robed in leather.
G-d asks Adam – who told you that you are naked? Next comes the most beautiful sentence in the whole Bible to my mind: Adam replies, “the woman that You gave me told me to eat the fruit.” The primordial man, Adam Harishon, answers G-d in pureness. Meforshim consider this a blame, blaming Hava, or worse, blaming the Eibishter Himself, chalilah. But I read it quite differently. Adam, in all innocence, answers “I have dveikut to You and thus dveikut to Your gift to me. I believed that I knew You by knowing her but when I ate, the spell of confusion overcame us both and the woman and I both instantly knew that we were naked just like the snake and so we dressed ourselves in these fig leaves.” This was the unstated statement. All choices might be right or wrong, good or bad, enlightening or obscuring. This is the temporal world – that we do not know things clearly. All this dialogue happened on the first day of their creation, the sixth day before Shabbat. Had Adam and Eve waited until the onset of Shabbat, eternal knowledge would come to them to visualize the holy good of the All-Knowing One.
Have you come to Yom Kippur hiding beneath layers of self-made false fronts? You are not a profession. You are not even a mother or a father. There was a time that you weren’t and there will be a time when your children will leave you. You are not only defined as a person that loves. We all know how fickle affection plays with our emotions. What we were given was the image of G-d inside us, a potential to partner with Him, the continuing of creation. How above the ground can we rise? The word Adam, in Hebrew, is taken from the word Adamah, which means, the ground. The midrash tells us that Adam was created from the ground of all the corners of the earth, and many are resigned to believe that we will be buried in that same ground. From dust to dust, the Torah says. Adam is the creature that began underneath earth and rises to traverse Eden in co-ownership with the Eibishter. And so I repeat: how above the ground shall each of us rise? This may be the real question we have to answer in Olam Habah, on Judgment Day, on Yom Din. It would be horrific to know that we are still knee-deep in the mud. Yom Kippur speaks to a lofty creation that we make in partnership with G-d, a spiritual heightening of our space in the world.
I obviously live now in a reduced place. I am confined, constricted, refrained, and contained. That may be the reality objectively to everyone else. But it is not mine. I feel my life force coming through. No barriers but me in freefall happiness. I’m jumping here and everywhere endlessly and without restraint. A mind believes what it wants to believe, and my mind believes that G-d owns the future and gives it to me now. I feel like a pioneer, introduced to my body at first glance and I am able to enter each sub-atomic particle and chart its dimensions. I have been allowed a world of timelessness, a Shabbos forever, to investigate the pure unmitigated energies of life. Why be anywhere else? We live in the possible, not the improbable. This is why a person can look forward to the day of judgement and not tremble beneath it. I absolutely know that I had my Day of Judgement in the next world, that day two years ago.
How could Adam and Eve leave a father and mother that they never had, unless of course G-d was the mother and father that they did leave in the attempt to shortcut their way to eternal life? The text says the snake was naked, meaning exposed to its raw being of convolution and connivance. In Hebrew the word snake, nachash, means to guess, to approximate. It is always the opposite of true knowledge. The snake was on the bark of the tree and Adam was on the other side of Eve. Eve, Chava, in Hebrew, life, means innocent existence, existence without judging, pre-experience. The innocent is always the target of Evil; equally, the innocent is the desire of Good. The snake began its chatter to Eve to separate Adam from her, and to separate G-d from them both. That is what Evil means in Judaism, to interfere with a relationship with G-d, to create doubt. Evil cajoles the pure one. It flatteringly tricks us into thinking that we are really self-made, that we play the sole part in our own creation story.
What did the snake gain from this encounter? And what is it that Eve found in the appearance of the fruit that delighted her? G-d doesn’t even ask the snake what its aims were, He straightforwardly condemns it to a horizontal existence underfoot winding in the soil. No height, no awareness of what is far away.
Here is my radical conclusion. Please do not be offended. The rabbis don’t know what this fruit is. Some say an apple. Some say an etrog. Others say the grape. There are many more interpretations.
Flawed or not; I am in a state now of being reduced and confined. Restraint and constraint. I’ve had this time to try to understand where lies my purpose in life. We are all born flailing and wailing. We are all body.
As adults with souls established we live in olam habah one day of the year, yet 364 days we live in olam hazeh, this world. The gematriah, numerical value, of shin is 300, samech is 60, and daled 4, compiling several salient words. The self of our body is through our mouth. We find nourishment from the suckle of our mother. We are born with contact. Once from inside our mother’s womb, and now outside at her breast. I believe that the fruit that Eve saw and sought was the breast that gave her knowledge of the world outside herself. G-d did not tell her do not eat from the tree of knowledge. It was Adam who had to first go through a Shabbat of heavenly repose in order to prepare himself to know how to discern the fruit of Good and Evil/Bad. The breast, Shad, Shin Daled has been either the downfall of man or the celestial heights of holiness. Shad is the first contact of nutrition that the just born gasps in inhales; food, drink, and touch; sight and skin and murmuring sounds of the heartbeat pound. In another dimension, Shin Daled can be pronounced as Shed, the diabolical and the demeaning demonizer. A Shed might approach the breast hostily and with aggression to conquer her. The corporeal world can elevate or undermine the knowledge to discern between Good and Evil/Bad. The counterpoint to shed, shin daled, is the name of G-d, Shadai – Protector. G-d made known to our patriarchs that He was El Shadai, the G-d who protects the vulnerable Hebrews as we established our family in Canaan. On every mezuzah is the letter Shin which bespeaks that G-d protects each Israelite home and gate that wears a mezuzah. On the tefillin box is a three pronged shin on one side and a four pronged shin on other side representing our three patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and the four matriarchs, Sarah, Rivkah, Rachel, and Leah. G-d adds the yud to the letters shin daled saying that shin and daled will always live a holy presence. Shadai is a dialogue from us to G-d and G-d to us – everyone who calls on G-d comes into a new dimesion of their own creation story. Some believe that the soul both enters and leaves from us at the end of our lives through the fontanelle. Notwithstanding is there anything more beautiful in life than to seek the soul? The body needs the soul to know which mitzvoth to fulfill and the soul needs the body to physically enact the mitzvot. G-d is the truth that counters the destructive.
No one can leave G-d once they have felt their soul filled with His breath. Our life’s task is to rediscover the first breath of G-d’s light that we breathe in our first moment of birth. This is the soul, again, pushed into every nefesh. That moment of breathing is the re-enactment of Adam coming forth out of the inchoate world. The snake went into the dust and Adam emerged out of it.
That is why I believe it was not two trees at all, but one tree rooted on the bottom into the ground as the tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil/Bad and above it, the tree of Eternal Life, reaching heavenward. For man, learning how to honor and elevate the woman brings him directly above the tree of knowledge onto the tree of Eternal Life. How we employ our sexual encounters with our spouse either debases our lives or spiritualizes us. This is why the story of G-d and the snake are presented as the first act of the couple Adam and Eve. It is the judgement of all of us. Do we live in precious realization of what this life means? The snake demeans. The earthly Adam can enliven if he looks heavenwards.
The Rabbis in the Midrash say that Moshe’s Hebrew name, his hidden name, is Tov, Good. Moshe, which means, to be drawn out of the water in ancient Egyptian, now rejoins the essence of the creation story with Adam. Moshe, the Good, like Adam, is the counterpoint to the nachash (snake), who personifies Ra, Evil/Bad.
The shepherd’s staff that Moshe Rabeinu used to free the Israelites first appears in Pharoah’s court when Moshe turns the staff into a serpent. Unimpressed, Pharoah’s magicians replicate the feat so Moshe’s serpents swallowed theirs as fodder. Later, however, the snake-staff comes to part the Sea of Reeds into twelve corridors for each tribe to march through on dry land to freedom and out of Egypt, again drawn out of the water. (Most interestingly the person that first jumped into the sea before the waters parted was Nachson ben Aminadav from the tribe of Binyamin, becoming the snake-staff himself. Nachshon, stemming from the Hebrew word nachash, snake- Nun, Chet, Shin, reverses his doubt into complete trust. Our sages say that the waters parted when the water reached his nostrils, simulating the ruakh hakodesh, the holy wind blown in to Adam and Eve’s noses. Then was the nachash the rigid snake, a bone -tzadik-lamed-ayin- or was it a shadow-tzadik lamed of G-d’s divinity? The second person to jump in was Moses’s first-born son, Gershon, who of course stems also from the tribe of Levi. These are the two tribes that contain the holy temple offerings, ministering the nation’s sacrifices and atonements in Yerushalayim, Jerusalem.) Further, in the desert, the staff becomes a banner of a snake made of copper (Nachoshet in Hebrew, from the word Nachash) that is held high over the tribes, turning the snake into the symbol of G-d’s healing over all the nation of Israel and the world. This banner, some say, is the icon of healing that all of us know as the symbol of the medical profession even unto today, the Asklepian. No matter in the lush world of Eden, or the barren world of the Sinai desert, G-d provides healing through any creature He creates. Even the most nakedly cunning animal, the nachash, has potential for transforming and perfecting the world. In complete reversal the letters of nun and shin later come out to be the urim and tumim of the word choshen, chet-shin-nun, the choshen, breastplate, of the Kohen Gadol and placed on Aaron Hakohen Hagadol’s chest. The choshen is the touchstone to understand G-d’s Will. Unknown answers in the human world were mysteriously revealed in the glow of the precious stones on the choshen (and Aaron reads them). The unknown became celestially obvious, no more guesswork. The snake had now become the instrument of the most good in the world. There in the desert unbeknownst to mankind was the clarity of Eden, the delight from the Tree of Eternal Life, the Eitz Chaim. This is the ongoing revelation of the Torah and the study of Torah.
Lastly, the snake was present in the Creation story because it moults. In partial similitude, a Jewish boy through circumcision is named and sanctified with Kiddush, given his Hebrew name, and brought into the covenant – brit – with G-d and Israel, after living through his first Shabbat. When the not-yet -circumcised child is brought to the room before his mini-alter, the community there turns to him and says baruch habah, “you are blessed to enter the covenant of Avraham.” Those words will be repeated to his bride when she first enters the room walking to the chupah, the alter of Eden that will create their home. We say to her brucha habaah “you are blessed to enter the covenant of the people.” The kallah encircles the chatan seven times to the highest heights up to the Supernal Heavenly Abode. There, Hava brings Adam again to the furthest distance from the ground and there they have the glimpse of eternity within them. Because the snake sheds its skin it has a chance to re-find its true purpose of being kind, compassionate, just, and righteous. It is possible to not stay rigid forever, but flexible and change-worthy. This too is the sign of the circumcised male member. It must meld into a lovingness with its female partner. They will continue to recreate in partnership with G-d an extraordinary new universe. The child of their union must be created with the same immense love that G-d created all things on the earth, staving off anything negative
The word Ra, evil/bad, Reish Ayin, can be flipped to Ayin Reish, Er, awakening. Even when bad awakens to its own hollow self-destruction, whenever it happens, it begins the long climb upward to hallow itself. We see the snake saving the people, leading the liberation, unshackling the bounded. The snake in Eden was punished by being at the heel and ever dust-bound. But out of Eden and out of Egypt, it learned to lead the march through the world of only sand, the barren desert, back to the promised land. What Adam began from the ground in contradistinction to the snake, Moshe Rabeinu lifted the snake back to the full delight of Eden, and then even more so Aaron, Moshe’s brother, through the choshen– chet shin nun. Moses’ snake heals the body and Aaron’s snake heals the spirit and the mind. In truth, the body is spiritualized and the soul is made tangible when the body and soul are embraced by G-d. Through mitzvoth, G-d accepts us as junior partners in creation. These are the two seminal figures born circumcised, Adam Harishon and Moshe Rabeinu. Eventually Evil becomes true to the Good and in effect, therefore, everything that G-d created in creation, Moshe Rabeinu, Tov, reminds us is of the composition of the Good.
The Nachash curling up the trunk of the Tree of Knowledge lures the just born maiden child, Chava, to taste the fruit of death, “Eat it, death is nice, remember before your existence?” She takes it and now knows the other side. The snake’s knowledge is in her. Rising to sublime womanhood refusing to be alone Eve seduces the only man womb who had just given birth, Adam, to enter the delight of death through it’s door. When they both know, they instantly crumble. Adam’s punishment is the struggle with the earth, Eve’s is the howls of birth pangs.
(How is it at Eisav and Yaakov’s birth? Yaakov nips at Eisav’s heel . This happens to be the very punishment of the snake – to always be underfoot of the woman. The name Eisav means completely made, asui, ayin-sin-vav-yud. The Rabbis midrash reports that Eisav is the other biblical character born circumcised. He is born complete and does not change. This echoes of the Tree of Knowledge, of Evil Knowledge. Yaakov is named “heel” but also comes to a secondary meaning of traversing the world in zig zag aimlessly, in other words, sidewinding like a snake. His life will seem like indirection. When Yaakov flees his brother, at the very edge of Eretz Yisrael, he falls into a slumber and dreams of Eternal Life. The wooden ladder flies heavenward from his head. It is the Eitz Chaim from Eden, the seminal center of G-d’s Garden. In this dream, the Almighty is standing on Yaakov’s head echoing the damning curse given to both the nachash and Chava. G-d stepping on Yaakov’s head severs the punishment forever. Again, the midrash interrupts and says it was Eisav’s fate to go to the house of Lavan and marry Leah while it was Yaakov’s destiny to marry only Rachel. Since Eisav married from the daughters of Mitzrayim, following his half-uncle Yishmael, Yaakov then was deceived into marrying both Leah and Rachel. Leah is described as weak-eyed, teary-eyed, because she envisioned already the horrible circumstance to her daughter Dinah and the death invoking disaster, the actions of Shimon and Levi against the men of Shechem. (Shechem in ancient Hebrew means shoulder, climb and descend from the heel and the head.) Rape and death and murder was in the air. Upon Yaakov’s return with his family to Eretz Yisrael he meets dream-like again – Eisav’s grounded angel that didn’t climb the ladder to the Ein Sof. There they wrestled again as within the womb, struggling for the birthright blessing. Yaakov prevails and Eisav’s angel maims him on the thigh, climbing from the heel now. Yaakov will limp through his coming history in life. No longer remained, he is named Yisrael – straightened by G-d. And so, G-d Himself gives Yaakov that elusive name which flits back and forth with Yaakov and his children, Bnei Yisrael, throughout our lives.
There are two types of knowledge, teach our sages – the knowledge of discernment between what brings us closer to G-d and what brings us to His Distance. The good helps us fill out the image of G-d within us, breathing life into our neshama. The evil brings us only to ourselves, self-anointing the life of the nefesh, our bodily selves. The other knowledge is the knowledge of intimacy. This knowledge is man to woman, woman to man, which is the knowledge of dveikut, cleaving to G-d. G-d knowledge is attainable through intimate human knowledge.)
Shabbat is a pre-cursor of the world to come. It is life after life. And in that day all is revealed of the complete Good that G-d has created in both Heaven and Earth. Our gentle souls are pushed forward to our essence through Shabbat. Male and female unite in kindness and compassion, righteousness and justice. The weekday is an approximation of how the world is run. We are confused if we rely on our own imperfect ideals of life. We guess, me’nachesh, about the end of days. On Shabbat we trust the Almighty, and therefore there is gentle interaction among all of us, symbolized by returning to the paradise of Eden. This is the ultimate judgement. This is an arousal of all the senses to live for the sacred depths of rousing the righteousness and raising the kindness, which is both the deepest within and the highest in heaven without.
May your judgement be pure because you have known eternal life in your own life and may you find the image of G-d within you in full expression of the holiness of all your senses, Amen.
Rabbi Ronnie Cahana