Judaism: Choosing G-d
Moshe KempinskiMoshe Kempinski, author of "The Teacher and the Preacher", is the editor of the Jerusalem Insights weekly email journal and co-owner of Shorashim, a Biblical shop and learning center in the Old City of Jerusalem.
Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year is marked by great intensity fervor and meditation. While it is true that entry into the Divine Palace is always accessible to each individual every day of the year, nevertheless the gates are there, the guards are in place and the moat encircles the Palace. That is to say that “Life” and all of its continual flow continues to place obstacles in our way in our attempt to find the way within our soul, into the heavenly palace.
On these “ Days of Awe”,the “King” is in the field. He is (metaphorically speaking) standing in the spot where we are standing and is within easy reach. As we reach the final day of the ten days of Awe the urgency of the moment overtakes of and the sense of the “closing of the gates” seizes our hearts in its dramatic grip.
Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement and repentance, becomes then, a day of serious introspection and contemplation. As Jews we believe that the pathway to standing before the Divine throne is through the humbling of the heart. Nothing else, neither the sacrifices, charity and not even prayer , become the way to that inner sanctum. Those things are simply the outer expressions of the source of all repentance. That source remains the contrite and repentant heart.
Yet what should that heart be filled with?
During one of the moving prayers recited on Yom Kippur “Ki Anu Amecha” (We are Your people) there is a phrase uses words that are unusual and rare..
After declaring in the prayer, “We are Your people and You are our G-d..We are Your children and You are our Father..", we say "we have selected you and you have selected us". The words used to describe that selection "He-Emartem" and " He-Emeercha" are used only once throughout the Bible.
In the Torah portion of Ki Tavo we read the following;
"You have selected (He-Emartem)Hashem this day, to be your G-d, and to walk in His ways, and to observe His statutes, His commandments and His ordinances, and to obey Him. And Hashem has selected you ( He-Emeercha) this day to be His treasured people, as He spoke to you, and so that you shall observe all His commandments"(Deuteronomy 26:17-18).
The first important point to focus on is the fact that the “Divine relationship” according to Jewish understanding necessitates a "choosing" from both sides. In some theological constructs, G-d simply chooses who He decides to "save" or redeem. In those constructs, that is called the "grace of G-d"
In Judaism “Grace” is not defined as G-d choosing us but rather “Grace” is G-d giving us the power to choose Him. That is the underlying impact of the declaration in Deuteronomy.
"You have selected (He-Emartem) Hashem this day, to be your G-d, ..And Hashem has selected you ( He-Emeercha) this day to be His treasured people”(ibid)
We must explore the words used to define that mutual selection
Rashi explains regarding these words "He-Emartem"amd " He-Emeercha" that "We do not find any equivalent expression in the Scriptures (which might give us a clue to the meaning of these words). However, it appears to me that [the expression He-Emir] denotes separation and distinction.”
Yet perhaps the similarity to another Hebrew word might give us another direction.
One of the Hebrew words for Speak is "Emor".
"And Hashem said to Moses: Speak ( Emor) to the kohanim, the sons of Aaron, and say to them: Let none of you defile himself for a dead person among his people"( Leviticus 21:1).
The Ohr HaChaim Ha-Kadosh says here is a distinct difference between the word for ‘speaking’ VAYIDABER and the word for ‘saying’ VAYOMER. He teaches that the word VAYIDABER denotes harsh speaking as opposed to VAYOMER. which denotes gentle discourse. When the Torah says Vayomer ,it is lovingly and gently relaying information.
Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk once asked his students “what language does G-d speak?” One student said "Hebrew". Another said in all languages and another said in “no language”.
Rabbi Menachem Mendel answered “you may be all partially correct, yet at the deepest level Man is the language of G-d." Man has been given the role of expressing G-d in this world.
At our Shabbat table my son, Yoni Kempinski, suggested a fascinating insight into the words "He-Emartem"amd " He-Emeercha" used in this Yom Kippur prayer. What the anonymous author of that prayer may have been saying is that Hashem selected us to be His language and we have selected him to be ours.
When the world flounders, as it is doing in our days, in the sea of Randomness and Happenstance, G-d will use his people to express Himself and thereby impact reality. After thousands of years of exile His people came from the cemeteries of Europe and they came from the southern shores of Yemen. In time they traveled from northern Africa and were slowly gathered from the west and left the villages of Cush and escaped the “Iron Curtain” in the land of the north. This was not simply the unfolding of Jewish history but rather a great declarative statement of G-d .He intends to achieve everything He has promised.
“Then they will know that I am Hashem their G-d, for though I sent them into exile among the nations, I will gather them to their own land, not leaving any behind. (Ezekiel 39:28)
For our part,we must make the effort to speak G-dliness in our lives, our business and our daily chores. We must, make room within ourselves so that we can truly become the words and declarations of Hashem in our reality.
That is the deepest part of Yom Kippur. It is about the minute inner scrutiny, and the breaking heart and the cleansing of one's soul that makes room for Hashem to be evident in our lives.
May we achieve this great task on this Yom Kippur and merit a Gmar Chatima Tova, a good Inscription in G-d's book of Life.
LeRefuat Yehudit bat Golda Yocheved