Sunday, September 19, 2010

And If You Offer Your Soul To The Hungry

There was one verse that stood out to me from yesterday's haftorah of Isaiah 57-58.

"And if you offer your soul to the hungry and satisfy the afflicted soul; then your light will shine in the darkness and the deepest gloom will be like the noon."

In the Hebrew, it is 58:10.

וְתָפֵק לָרָעֵב נַפְשֶׁךָ, וְנֶפֶשׁ נַעֲנָה תַּשְׂבִּיעַ; וְזָרַח בַּחֹשֶׁךְ אוֹרֶךָ, וַאֲפֵלָתְךָ כַּצָּהֳרָיִם.

The reason this verse speaks to me so profoundly- and this is without looking at the elaborations, explanations or commentaries to the verse- is because of the words used. Note that it does not say that one should offer food to the hungry but rather one's soul. Many times people are hungry for compassion, kindness or spirituality and these are not hungers that can be sated by anything less than the giving of a soul- and I have given my soul. I felt that God was comforting me. "You may have your sins- but you have given your soul- and I have seen it- I have witnessed it- and the strength of that soul outweighs the darkness of those sins. So be still, my daughter, for I have not left you yet."

The fact that the man who said Birkat Kohanim sounded exactly like my grandfather - he spoke with the same Chassidish pronounciation- made me feel like I was being blessed by my grandfather from beyond the grave through an emissary, which is especially important given that this is just before my wedding.

And the fact that a little old lady who survived Birkenau and showed me the numbers on her arm blessed me adds to that power. It is my custom always to ask survivors, especially those who remained religious, for blessings for I feel they have a merit that no one else can possibly attain unless they were burned in fire and tortured by water as one of God's chosen within His crucible.

God was close to me as He always is; I felt Him and I saw Him- in the faces of all those assembled, gathered only to do Yizkor. It is very powerful to me that even though one may not be at all religious still one comes to pray for the dead, for one's mother and father. It bespeaks a deep and inseparable bond between the parent and the child, a love that extends beyond death.

This should come as no surprise because King Solomon states that it is so.

See Song of Songs 8:6.

שִׂימֵנִי כַחוֹתָם עַל-לִבֶּךָ, כַּחוֹתָם עַל-זְרוֹעֶךָ--כִּי-עַזָּה כַמָּוֶת אַהֲבָה, קָשָׁה כִשְׁאוֹל קִנְאָה: רְשָׁפֶיהָ--רִשְׁפֵּי, אֵשׁ שַׁלְהֶבֶתְיָה. 6

Set me as a seal upon thy heart, as a seal upon thine arm; for love is strong as death, jealousy is cruel as the grave; the flashes thereof are flashes of fire, a very flame of the LORD.

Love is as strong as death; this is why so many express their love by coming to Yizkor.

There is something absolutely haunting about the wailing cry, 'El Malei Rachamim.' I imagine that cry and see bodies piled up in pits, mass graves in Europe and I shudder in awe. It amazes me that man clings to God when God has hurt him- in the shadow of the death camps, in the darkness of the night, when no one else answers, all that we have is His. Our bodies? Our souls? They do not belong to us. We do His will for He gave us life; we try our hardest to do as He desires.

The part that touches me the most in the Shemoneh Esrei that we say on Yom Kippur is this paragraph:

"My God, before I was formed I was unworthy, and now that I have been formed, it is as if I had not been formed. I am dust in my life and will surely be son in my death. Behold- before You I am like a vessel filled with shame and humiliation. May it be Your will, Hashem, my God and the God of my forefathers, that I may not sin again. And what I have sinned before You, may You wipe away with Your abundant mercy, but not through suffering or serious illness."

The plea and the desire not to sin again before God again are a mixture of sweet and sad to me. This is everyone's most fervent wish- but in order not to sin one must know what the sins are. In a world that is very confusing with many divergent opinions it is hard sometimes to know if what one does, longs for, feels or acts upon is a sin or if it is not.

What I wish of God is to grant me the clarity to discern the sins from the good deeds so that I will then be able to fulfill this desire of not sinning again.

And may He shine His countenance down upon me like the sun, and my light and His will mingle and I shall be both awed and happy, cupped as I am within His Palm.


Anonymous said...

A moving and meaningful post. God bless you !

SisterBear said...

Its nice when people come away from Yom Kippur with more than 'I was so hungry'
Thanks for sharing

arcanacoelestia said...

Thank you for this profoundly beautiful and insightful post, which I have just shared as a link on my Facebook page. As always, Chanaleh, your wisdom and compassion speak directly to the heart.... Hugs and G-d bless you!

smoo said...

My father recently explained birkat kohanim to me based on a drasha he heard in Far Rockaway some 30+ yrs ago. When you read the English, do you really understand what this blessing is for??? Countenance...Really???

The first blessing is may God bless you with material good and may he protect you so that you can keep that which you received. It should be stolen or squandered.

The second is that May God shine upon you (like someone whose face lights up with charisma) and make YOU gracious to others so that they perceive you as a pleasant graceful charismatic person.

The third is May God turn towards you (which is an expression of forgiveness- so he forgives you) that you may have peace.

The 1st blessing is for material sustenance and survival.

The 2nd is for social acceptance so that we may successfully survive socially.

The 3rd is for emotional tranquility. People who believe they have done wrong and believe God hasn't forgiven them or that they have not the ability to forgive themselves suffer emotional turmoil. So the blessing asks to let those demons go by attaining forgiveness.