Have you ever opened a book to see a mirror into the depths of your soul that you have never seen before? Have you ever turned a page like turning a corner to stop and realize that no matter where you are, wherever you are, you’ve finally found the place?
That was my experience when I finally read the Sefer Yetzirah, the Book of Creation.
Funny story: So Yom Kippur is perhaps the most somber and important day of the Jewish year; it’s the Sabbath of Sabbaths, the Day of Atonement, the day our names our sealed in the Book of Life for one more year.
And Yom Kippur is tomorrow.
But my calendar (don’t trust calendars) implied it began last night, so I began fasting, trying to think of Yom Kippur things, and then I realized, today isn’t even Yom Kippur.
I have a confession: I am bound in chains and sometimes I like it. My flesh is tethered by bands of leather and holy boxes inscribed with the word of God. The numbness under the straps speaks to me of security, reminds me of an invisible, all powerful touch.
The truth is metaphor’s a nasty animal that rears its head and paws at the dirt and runs off chasing wild game the moment you think it’s majesty might actually be your own.
But the bigger truth is this: Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about freedom, about what it means to be free, about liberation, and all the chains we carry.
In my last post, I spoke about the uncomfortable reality of being a non-Christian in a country that mistakenly believes its religious identity (which doesn’t exist) is synonymous with its civic identity. I also alluded to a conversation with a friend who assumed Chanukah is a much bigger deal than it is–but instead of making my misconception corrections then, I decided to make them their own post.
Some may say I’m blowing this out of proportion, but probably I’m not: I feel like the material world has stolen Chanukah. Picked it up in a big red bag, slung it over its shoulder, and made off on a sleigh drawn by a dog with one antler. It makes me lax to light candles, eat latkes, even spin the dreidle.
I want to write a profound and moving post about Yom Kippur. About atonement, about forgiveness, about redemption and revival. I want to write a poem about the pounding of my fist against my heart as I echo, in harmony with the congregation around me, the confessions of our sins. I want to paint a picture of the closing gates with such vividness my readers will forget they’re reading and think they are seeing into heaven itself.
But Yom Kippur is not about grandeur, and what else are these desires?
Last night Rosh HaShanah began, the start of the Jewish year 5774. For most this meant traveling to services, eating apples and honey (for a sweet and prosperous new year), and hearing the shofar–a ram’s horn–blown. For me it meant none of the above.
I could easily steer this conversation in about five directions, depending on how I choose my next few words, and since each road isn’t incredibly long and all equally relevant, my task now is to touch each of them in turn.
I read this week’s teaching for the first time more than a month ago–and I knew I’d loathe the moment I got to it. When the week opened at a conference in DC and continued with a maddening rush to pack my room and move on campus, procrastination came easily.
But as Hillel might remind us, “If not know, when?”
So anxiously I plow forward. One last teaching to end them all.
I recently read David Berlinski’s A Tour of the Calculus, a wildly imaginative and lyrical look at the intuition and origination of one of math’s most recognizable elements. I was delighted as he described the wondrous experience of seeing mathematical functions in everyday life (an experience I’m prone to myself), and I was lulled into a certain sense of dualistic comfort when he uncovered the natural yet unexpected partnership between differentiation and integration, the two processes wholly defining the calculus.
While I read today’s teaching, I couldn’t help but be reminded of Berlinski’s musical prose, of the unambiguous manner in which he related unassuming but intimately connected ideas–which is, as you’ll soon see, precisely the challenge presented today.