Monday, August 8, 2011

Yearning for closeness

One morning last week, B.A. and I were shopping in the Machane Yehuda shuk, Jerusalem’s famous open-air market. It was early on a Wednesday, before the shuk is too crowded, and we were taking our time.

I pushed him in his stroller, loading up a knapsack with fruits and vegetables and nuts. As I checked produce items off my shopping list, I taught B.A. their names.

I held up a sweet potato before him.

“What’s this? Sweet potato!”

“Cucumber,” he replied.

“Eich omrim beivrit? How do we say it in Hebrew? Batata!”


“What’s this? A radish!”


And so on. He seemed pretty solid on the cucumber thing.

We smiled at each other. The vastness of the shuk and the stretch of day ahead of us seemed to fall away. There was only us and this morning, a shopping trip becoming a lesson in words, a time of closeness with my little boy. I was bestowing upon him my attention, my knowledge, my love, sharing the experience of shopping in the life-pulsing market. And he was there with me in a perfect moment.

* * *

What I love most about Torah-observant life is the way the everyday, the mundane is uplifted and transformed. I was 18 when I started on this path. Of course, I knew about holiness before then. I knew the feeling of purity and relief at the end of Yom Kippur, shouting out “Hashem Hu HaElokim! Hashem is God!” in unison with the other temple-goers. I knew the peace and sanctity of lighting Shabbat candles with my mother.

And I knew the ecstasy of the world’s pleasures, great and simple. I knew the uncanny joy of connecting with another person and feeling some new wholeness.

But it wasn’t until I began to keep the laws of the Torah and strive to understand their mysteries that all these experiences came together. It is only in this context that I can seek God’s presence as I work in the kitchen, as I sit at my computer, as I put my children to sleep. As I shop in the market and teach my son about the world.

* * *

While B.A. and I were doing our shopping, my husband was visiting Har HaBayit with his rabbi. Har HaBayit, the Temple Mount, is the center of physical holiness in the world. It encompasses the rock from which the universe was created, and is the onetime site of God’s sanctuary, the Beit HaMikdash.

The Holy Temple was the meeting place of human experience and Divine reality. It was the center of Jewish worship and a house of prayer for the entire world. There, we experienced the ultimate elevation of the mundane. Incense and animal blood and trumpet blasts expressed the soul’s connection—not just yearning, but real connection, closeness—with the Source of holiness.

We don’t have that now.

That meeting place of temporal humanity and eternal holiness does not exist in the world today. Tomorrow, the 9th of Av, marks the day that the Temple was razed to the ground. Nearly 2000 years later, we still mark its destruction with a day of intense grief. We sit on the floor and relive the experience—the violence, the despair, the horror of ensuing exile, the sense of what is missing in our lives

* * *

I move through my days, searching for God’s face. I put away the laundry and wipe down the counters. I pray in my living room in the morning light. I show B.A. how to stack the plastic cups so they fit inside the cabinet. I message with my sister on Facebook. I take my children to visit the Western Wall, the remnant of the Temple.

I feel my soul’s yearning for God, and I see God’s love around me in the expanse of creation, in the rich wonder of my life. But we never really meet. We are always circling around each other and missing opportunities, like the tragic lovers in the Song of Songs.

We will only really be together when Jerusalem is rebuilt in wholeness, with the Beit HaMikdash at its center. May it be soon.

3 comments: said...

oy chaya, this is so beautiful. You and Hashem like the tragic lovers from shir hashirim as you stack the cups and message with your sister and daven in the morning light of your apartment. perfect.

Ima2seven said...

I love your beautiful writing. It is a pleasure, and brings me back to Israel. Thank you as always!

tzirelchana said...

Hi Chaya
Nice post
Be well

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