What are you most afraid of losing? Really, go inside and ask yourself that tough question. It isn’t easy, but these are the days and weeks leading up to the High Holy Days, and it’s all about facing what we would rather avoid. So what is it? Are we afraid of losing our loved ones, our children?...God forbid! Are we afraid of losing our security? Our homes? Are we afraid of losing control over our lives? Is it a fear of losing power? Is it a fear of losing love and support from others? Just go there, if only for a moment, and see what it feels like just to sit with that fear.
“B’Rosh HaShanah Yikateivun,” “On Rosh HaShanah it is written,” “Uv’Yom Tzom Kippur yeichateimun,” “And on Yom Kippur it is sealed: How many shall leave this world, and how many shall be born; who shall live and who shall die…” What a strange religious tradition we have that asks us—that requires us—to face our deepest existential dreads and fears!
An interesting thing happens when we stop running and just allow ourselves to be with and acknowledge our fears. When we start to go deeper, we can see the core, the root essence of what is actually giving rise to our fear. All the things in the world that we fear losing most, all really are about the same thing: we’re afraid of being alone and lost, abandoned and suffering. If we put this fear of abandonment in religious terms, we fear experiencing Godlessness. A Godless universe is a universe that would let you suffer and be abandoned. It’s our singular, shared dread, whether we put it in “God” terms or not.
Another question: What do you really want? What’s your deepest desire? What is the core thing you yearn for in life? The answer is the very things we fear losing: being close and happy with our loved ones, security, a sense of control or power, a feeling of being valued. Ultimately, we all yearn for the same One thing: the opposite of abandonment: fulfillment, peace…in a word, love. To put it in religious terms, that One thing we most deeply yearn for is God.
Again, whether we believe in God or not is not as important as the fact that our tradition, in using “God” language, is actually pointing to our deepest of human fears and longings. The point is not about believing a dogma, it’s about our willingness to engage our deepest Truths.
Psalm 27, the Psalm we read all during the High Holy Days, points us directly to this experience: “Lulei he’emanti lir’ot b’tuv Adonai b’eretz chayim,” Would that I could have faith/trust in the goodness of God in the land of the living. Would that we could indeed! Imagine that you really had the very One thing that you yearn so deeply for in life: that deepest of peace, that deepest of joy, of love. Really imagine what it would be like, imagine who you would be sitting here right now, knowing that you have your deepest desire fulfilled. If, indeed, we had this, we would be fearless.
“Kavei el Adonai,” “Yearn for God,” says the psalm. “Chazak v’ya’ametz libecha,” “ be strong and courageous—fearless—in your heart,” “v’Kavei el Adonai,” and yearn for God. There is a way of living our lives where can transcend all fear. We can look right in the face of death and all loss itself, and not be afraid. That way of living is all about embracing our yearning. Yearning is not simply a feeling. It’s not just about ‘wanting something.’ All of our desires and lusts in life are actually metaphors of yearning. Yearning is the soul’s response when the heart experiences fear. Yearning is our soul saying to us, “I want to come home.” It is our “nefesh Yehudi homiya,” our Jewish soul cooing softly to us like a dove.
Yearning gently pulls at us, implores us to return to something…Chadesh Yameinu Kakedem, Renew our days as of old, say our prayers. Come back, come away from the fear, the nightmare of abandonment and Godlessness. Yearning emerges not from base animal drives, but from a Divine Source within our heart of hearts. The Source of all yearning is love.
There is nothing that we won’t do for love. For our loved ones, we will risk our own lives in a heartbeat; even lay down our lives so that they might live. When we truly love, we are fearless.
Yearning always points us to our deepest Truth: that we are love. We’re normally so afraid of abandonment because we fear that we’re dependent on obtaining love from somewhere “out there” in an always changing and impermanent world. Our yearning is a teacher to us, showing us that the love that we fear losing can never be lost, because we already are the love that we crave. The home that we yearn to return to is nowhere other than our heart of hearts.
If we follow the still, small voice of our yearning, it teaches us that our purpose in life is not to “be loved,” but to love. Our job is not to escape abandonment, but to be a Presence for others, so that no one who touches our lives will ever be alone. The greatest Truth of Torah is that there is nothing to fear. When the energy of yearning impels our every action, there is no time or space for fear, there is only love.
Call it whatever you want: our shared yearning for love, for presence, for peace, for joy, for God. It doesn’t matter what it’s name is, so long as we yearn for it! This is how we will find ultimate ‘Chazak ve’Ematz,” Strength and Courage, fearlessness. In this year, 5770, may we join together and find that shared yearning, and transform our lives to joy.
Le’Shanah Tovah Tekateivu! May you be inscribed for a Happy and Healthy New Year!