“If I say,’Surely the darkness will hide me
and the light become night around me,’
even the darkness will not be dark to You;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to You.” (Psalms 139:11-12)
I am in the garden.
White and pink roses mingle overhead in a profusion of color. A white butterfly is fluttering about. Elusive and yet enchanting. At once in my reach, at once beyond my grasp. White, on the background of harmonious green, upon the profusion of flowery colors, which is the garden. The voice of the butterfly is silent, against the background calls of the birds. Silent, and yet magical. I hear the call, I see before my eyes the dream of an elusive hope.
We have just been through two years of threat, of health-related danger. And now, as life returns to ‘normal’. As we find ourselves once again in possession of our freedom, no longer in hiding from society, from each other. As we find ourselves maskless before one another, what is revealed behind the mask?
And what is the world in which we now find ourselves? A world of gratitude for our liberation from the worldwide existential threat of illness? A world of gratitude for our freedom to again spend time with our loved ones, unrestricted in number, in proximity? A world of gratitude for the possibility of enjoying our mutual interconnection in freedom and joy?
Or, on the contrary, do we now find ourselves in a world of rage. Where our enemies are ceaselessly trying to murder our innocents, peoples and nations are turning against each other. How does the worldwide unity in fighting a common health threat dissipate so quickly?
It is now the time of Counting of the Omer, which began on the second night of Passover. As we count the days to Shavuot, we spiritually prepare ourselves to receive the Torah.
We are reminded at this time that we as a nation are holy. As we read in parshat Kedoshim, on the Shabbat after Passover, “God spoke to Moshe, saying; Speak to the entire assembly to the Israelites and say to them, ‘You shall be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy’ ” (Leviticus 19:2).
What does it mean to be holy?
Rambam explains that man can cultivate sanctity within himself by emulating the holiness of God. “…for the chief aim of man should be to make himself, as far as possible, similar to God: that is to say, to make his acts similar to the acts of God, or as our Sages expressed it in explaining the verse, “You shall be holy” (Lev. 21:2): just as He is gracious, so be you also gracious, just as He is merciful, so be you also merciful (Moreh Nivuchim 1:54).
Especially during this time of year, during the Omer Count, we contemplate our relationship to God, our relationship to Life in the world which He has created.
“…Search me, O God, and know my heart,
test me, and know my thoughts.
See if there is any grievous way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalms 139:23-24)
We are asked daily to sanctify our thoughts, our actions, our lives.
We are asked daily to deal with life's challenges as well as life’s blessings, in a manner which will reflect our Divine nature.
And we are reminded of the sanctity of Life. The sacredness of each life, of each day. The various possibilities presented to us this morning with the rise of the sun. The many possibilities we have today to fill our day, our life, our world with meaning, with goodness, with hope.
In a dream, I look up towards the sky. White doves fly overhead, in a profusion of life, of joy. In their beaks, I can almost see the olive branches. I go to Jerusalem, to the Kotel, to give thanks for this day. A magnificent garden stretches out before my eyes in the plaza before the Kotel. A white butterfly flutters about, with a message of hope. A message which is elusive, but seems to be actualizing before my eyes. Harps may be heard, and the echoes of song. Perhaps it is King David, singing psalms of praise. Psalms mingle with the sound of prayers, the song of gratitude.
Holiness and serenity. An almost palpable presence of tranquility, of peace. One can almost touch the presence of the Shechinah.
Overhead, I see our flag, proudly waving in the breeze, the flag of Israel.
And somewhere in the far distance above, there is a chariot. “For behold, the Lord will come in fire, and his chariots like the whirlwind…”(Isaiah 66:15-16)
Perhaps Elijah is on his way.
I open my eyes.
A short while ago, we celebrated the holiday of Passover. The holiday of freedom, of liberation. We were reminded of our sanctity as individuals, as a people. For with great freedom comes great responsibility, the responsibility to choose our way.
As the easing of health fears and restrictions gives us an obligation, a challenge, to fill our newly-restored-lives with goodness and meaning. In the time of suffering and tragedy, we pray for redemption. We set our mark towards a world which will be a better one. A world in which life will be valued, just because it is holy, and we will have the freedom to cherish the day, just because it is.
Would we could walk on the path of Divine Blessing only. The path of tranquility and serenity, shimmering and beckoning us to alight.
“Rebbe would say: What is the path for man to choose? Whatever is harmonious for the one who does it, and harmonious for mankind.” (Pirkei Avot 2:1)
May our daily lives in this Promised Land be sanctified.
May we be blessed to live in harmony and peace.
May our prayers and actions hasten the arrival of that day.
Dr. Devorah Ungar is an American-born scientist and musician.who moved to Israel 30 years ago.