September 22, 2015

Simply Being

“Give ear, O heavens, and I will speak; and may the earth hear the words of my mouth.”  Devarim (Deuteronomy) 32:1

Erev Yom Kippur. It is now late morning as I sit in my garden to reflect. There is a waft of sweet guava. A bird sings. A gate creaks.

The roads are sleepy quiet as this day is a holiday in Israel. No school and no work for most. People take this day to prepare for the fast, cooking the festive meal before the fast begins, calling friends, spending time with family and visiting relatives’ graves.

It was 5:45 a.m. this morning when Amir, Talya and I stepped into the car. The sky was still dark and the air fresh as we drove to the beach. It was a gentle morning, the waves soft and quiet.

We ran the length of the beach, hugging the shore where the sand is packed. No earphones today; my feet stepped to the waves slipping rhythmically to the shore.

We then took out our machzorim to do tashlich, a prayer to ask for forgiveness. We looked out to the horizon, where sea meets sky and Talya said a personal prayer to G-d aloud:

I love you. I love your world. I love your creations. I love it all, the good and the bad, the laughter and the tears. The sea and the sky, the birds and the trees. When I sit in the cool, clear, fresh water I remember a promise you made thousands of years ago. You put the sky and the sea as witnesses to that promise. The sun never fails to rise every single day to light up the world once more even after we're sure it abandoned us for good. The waters that crash on the shore are always pulled back into the place from which they came. They may not resurface in the same shape or size, but they will always be part of the sea. 

We brought some bread to throw into the sea and I felt a little sheepish doing this on such a public beach, imagining some environmentalist lecturing me on the havoc wreaked in the marine system because of these breadcrumbs. Instead, a woman came up to us and asked what we were doing, standing in the waves with our prayer books.

Tashlich,” we replied.

“I want to do this too. Can I join you?”

We gave her some bread and this woman soon realized her Hebrew was superior. She took over the reading for us.

We threw our breadcrumbs to sea, as if we were discarding our sins, casting them into the water, watching them swirl, sink.

Besorot tovot,” she wished us. Only good things.

As we cast our bread, I looked out and saw a large delegation of swimmers coming towards us. They soon emerged at our feet. Turns out it was the local Ra’anana triathlon club. This morning they ran to the beach, swam and were about to run back.

They gathered on the shore and I saw a man with a kippa, one of the triathletes, reading from a prayer book. They all listened intently, threw a piece of bread into the sea, embraced, then started to run the 10 kilometers home.

Here were two occasions of what one could label secular Jews reaching out to Hashem and touching their souls.

According to Dov Lipman, who recently wrote in the Times of Israel, “The era of “secular” Israeli Jews is over and recognizing this will help us take the crucial first step towards the fulfilment of what should be our ultimate goal: an Israel in which levels of religious observance and piety are between each person and God, and in which we don’t have a compulsion to identify what type of Jew we are but can simply be “Jews.”

Living in Israel, I see examples of this every day. We are a soulful people and we want to connect and be connected, just like the sea and the sky, the heavens and the earth. We strive to make the two meet.

After tashlich, we swam out and floated on our backs. Our arms were limp, our legs buoyant. The sun was just peeking over the cliffs, bathing our faces in light.

“Give ear, O heavens, and I will speak; and may the earth hear the words of my mouth.” Moshe’s song that we will read in synagogue this Shabbat addresses the eternal heaven and earth.

We may be small floating specks, but in moments when we let go, allowing the waves to take the lead, giving in, breathing deeply, melting into nature’s rhythm, we become connected and an intrinsic part of the harmony of creation.

Wishes for a G'mar chatima tova and a meaningful fast.

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