We don’t know what is waiting for us. We don’t know what is beyond us. If the world came into being from a bit of cosmic dust that exploded with a big bang, we don’t know how that cosmic dust came into being. A few days back, our favorite theoretical cosmologist, Stephen Hawking, patiently explained to us that god doesn’t exist. He explained that back in the days before science existed, we needed something to relate to, to explain the world around us… to explain the origin of life… and other wonders beyond our understanding. And since we were more primitive then, we invented gods, and told ourselves that they… or he, or she… created the world, and us in it. There is nothing, he said, that is beyond what science can reveal and explain.
I am very fond of science. But I believe that there is more beyond our ability to know… beyond the ability of science to discover, than there is in all the collective knowledge of science, including all that we may discover as long as mankind continues to exist. I wouldn’t argue with Hawking, though. Because I have the greatest love for all those who focus their attention on the front line of our curiosity, and try to understand the unknown.
This evening is the start of the holiest day of the Jews, known as the day of the atonement. It is a day of fasting and soul searching. It is a day on which we consider life and death. It is a day on which we acknowledge our mistakes, and regret them. But it isn’t a sad day. No, it’s a happy day, a holiday in every sense of the word. The fasting is not sorrowful, but meant to allow us to concentrate on the spiritual nature of the day and avoid all the distractions that are connected with our everyday existence. It is the only day in the year that takes precedence over the Sabbath. This year, it falls on the Sabbath. Every other fast day, if it falls on the Sabbath, is moved over a day, so as not to fast on the Sabbath. But the day of atonement is even more important. At the conclusion of the day, we return to our normal lives refreshed and renewed. It is a wonderful feeling.
Some 250 years ago, the great rabbi and teacher, Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev entered his synagogue on the day of atonement, and told his congregants that as he arrived he noticed a Jew standing outside the synagogue, praying to god. He was curious why the man was praying outside instead of coming in and praying together with the whole congregation. So he came close to the man and listened to his prayer. Dear God, said the man, you know I’m not religious, and that I don’t go to the synagogue, and am not used to prayer, and wouldn’t know where to look in the book to find the prayers everyone is praying… don’t know anything about religion… so I will just recite the ‘abc’s now. And I ask you to put the letters together in the very best way for me, and let that be my prayer to you. Levi Yitzchak continued… So I would like the congregation to wait in silence now, till that man finishes his ‘abc’s, and then we can begin our prayers here inside.
I would like to tell you of another fine Jew, a scholar, a rabbi, and a teller of tales, who was known as Reb Nachman of Breslov. He is best known for the tales he told, which are considered parables on mystical understanding. But he is also especially loved for something he said, that is often quoted. When translated into English, it sounds like this:
“The whole world is a narrow bridge, and the essential thing is not to fear at all.”
This quote has become a popular song among our people, and I would like to share a version of it that I found posted on the internet. You can find it here, sung by Justin Shenk in both Hebrew and English: http://youtu.be/Vfc2CPgMLVc
I’ve heard of people who are moved to hug a tree. It might seem a bit ridiculous to someone who’s never done that. But the person hugging, knows something that the outside onlooker couldn’t even guess. And tomorrow, there are a few of us, who will try to hug the whole world.