a day of awe

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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.

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38 responses to “a day of awe

  1. Good morning dear Shimon…what a wonderful post. I wish you great joy on this day of Atonement and thank you so much for telling me about it.
    Like you, I love science and definitely respect Stephen Hawking and all that he brings to our lives….However, I do believe that there is so much more than we mere mortals, no matter how brilliant or curious can ever understand. It is the unknown, the unseen that gives me great hope.

    Of course I love this photograph of the dear Nechama…she looks so well and happy. Sending love. Janet. xx

  2. Lovely post, thank you. Hope you had an easy fast and best for a happy, healthy New Year.

  3. Hatima Tova Shimon and have an easy fast.

  4. Like you, I have much respect for Stephen Hawking, but I disagree with his proclamation. …. and as you know, I believe that science and religion can and do intertwine together, thus we don’t have to make a choice (as some proclaim).

    Love the way you weave the topic around Yom Kipper … blessings and peace to you on this day and every day … Shabbat Shalom.

  5. I am so glad to see you back in blogland and bringing us your wisdom. I appreciate the idea of the world as a narrow bridge and the challenge not to be afraid. To me faith is that bridge – it reminds me of the scene in one of the Indiana Jones movies where he has to cross a narrow chasm with no bridge. It is only as he puts his foot into space, that the bridge forms under it.

    What a lovely positive way of understanding the purpose of fasting and prayer – hugging the world. I love that.

  6. Shimon, this is a beautiful post! I am forwarding it to my daughter Bea. The rabbi at Stanford has asked her to tell the story of Jonah to the whole campus congregation tonight and she is a little nervous–I think she feels that she will be offering up her ABCs, but she practiced on Skype, her heart is in it, and I know she will do fine. I LOVE your analogy to tree hugging. Best wishes for an easy fast and a joyful Yom Kippur.
    Love,
    Naomi

  7. I find it amusing that science is held in such awe when the purpose of science is to prove the experts wrong. If science wasn’t wrong, then Pluto would still be a planet. I’ve lost track of the number of times eggs have been villainized and then declared the perfect food only to be villainized again with new studies.

    God, on the other hand, is always right. He did everything right, the first time. It is man who muddles things, not God, and yet man questions God.

    I will be stepping into this weekend with a different perspective than I planned. I need to stop and reflect and renew. I want to embrace the world with a new sense of commitment to bring to it a better version of myself.

    May you be blessed.

  8. Shimon it is always a moving experience to hear from you. I so agree with your viewpoint – and yet I so respect Stephen Hawking. I have experienced miracles in my life and I know that others have to. A miracle is not a coincidence – it is a type of intervention. There is more to this universe than we know, a higher power of some kind that is beyond our exact knowledge, and we human beings always want to be so exact. Faith is what is required of us. Observation reinforces faith, and the more we experience and observe in life, the more we realize that not every single thing is explainable…. and whether or not each and every person “believes” is sort of irrelevant…because the universe goes on and continues to be unexplainable. And so it goes.
    There is such value to a Day of Atonement. I am thinking of you.

  9. In the old days, people invented gods because no other reason could be given to how the universe came to be. Then science came into the picture and wanting to be superior to God, they try to explain how the universe came to be. Science has its role, and without it we would be back in the dark ages, but it still cannot take away the faith so many of us have of a universal power beyond that of what we can understand or know.
    I wish you an easy and meaningful fast.

  10. I’m so very grateful that I’m comfortable with my ABC’s, and that you’ve shared this story with us today. It is possible to imagine a people who collectively wish to “hug the world” and sometimes, a simple analogy such as this helps us see how we are all connected in similarity, in that we wish for others only peace and contentment, and good health. If all the world is a narrow bridge, then we can all be grateful for having managed to stay centered and moving forward on the bridge, and if we can do so without fear, we will have fulfilled our own destiny. Lovely post, and sending out a litany of ABC’s that you (and yours) might have a very blessed Yom Kippur.

  11. A marvelous post, Shimon. We wish you and your family a healthy and happy, palindromic new year. 5775!

  12. More than anything, I, as a non-observer, are happy that you are still healthy and vibrant enough to observe your day of atonement. That is an observance that all of us could benefit from.

  13. May your Yom Kippur end in deep peace and joy, Shimon, and blessings to your New Year…tomorrow is also the feast day of my favorite saint, Francis (lover of the earth and all of its plants and animals and other energies…), so the celebrations at Full Moon Cottage will be merry this weekend, and we will send an extra toast of love and good wishes to you and Nechama!

  14. Awesome post, Shimon. I always love hearing your thoughts about Jewish holy days. Have a great weekend!

  15. So nice that you’re back, Shimon. Negative, cynical types like me are badly in need your of you positive outlook. We appreciate it more so because we know how hard you work at it. You are an influence for good. Unfortunately I have a long way yet to go. In the meantime I’m just going to have to read your posts and hopefully keep enjoying your beautiful pictures.

    You talk of hugging the world, I would be happy to try, but I would more likely be looking out for the prickles. (See what I mean?) As for Stephen Hawking, when a person is admired for his cleverness the danger is believing without question everything he says. Stephen Hawking being used to such adulation is in just as much danger as the rest of us, more so in fact as I suspect the man has a bad case of hubris and no cure for it. Have I said how glad I am that you’re back?

  16. May G-d inscribe you and yours in the Book Of Life for another year Shimon. Thank you for giving me opportunities to think and react and question and wonder. Your posts are in that way, far more than you may imagine. Although I know the prayers, I would probably be the person outside the synagogue, for each day my moments with Hashem take place out doors. It is the only space I have found that can hold my gratitude, amazement, my grief and my hope.

  17. A very enjoyable post as ever Shimon. Always so nice to read your measure tones and optimistic outlook on life.

  18. I totally agree that there is so much in this world and in the universe, that is utterly beyond our comprehension….I can’t even stop marveling at how a Caterpillar can completely transform itself from one creature into another, or how a huge plant can grow from a tiny speck of a seed, oh yes, there is much we will never know. I like how you once described God, as something rather terrifyingly beyond our understanding.
    I did enjoy the stories of the ABC’s and the narrow bridge, as usual you give me much to ponder on. I hope you had a good day of atonement, and I just love that pic of Nechama. Lovely to see your post appear in my inbox, it is always such a pleasure to hear from you.xxx

  19. Ah Shimon, thank you!….I found myself singing along by the end of the song! It’s a good song to teach my young grandchildren. They’ll love the lie-de-lies and we can dance around. The words… they’ll catch up with them when they need them.
    My mother taught me the songs ‘You are my sunshine’ and ‘Que sera, sera’ which have followed me along to this day.
    So happy to hear from you, Shimon. Thank you for the blessing of song and a glimpse into your observance of fasting and atonement. It is a worthwhile practice. There is something similar in Native American spirituality which I was fortunate to be included in and learn from.
    Jana

  20. Dear Shimon, hugging plants is an act that I practice since I was a little girl… it gave me a sense of great power. Then I grew up and I continued to do it, but trying not to show to others for fear of being judged insane. Now, I’m are even older, I don’t only embrace but I also speak to the plants… and I do it even in the presence of people who I don’t know. I don’t care about the opinion of others, for me it’s an act of love toward every living presence… and I love Nechama… Serenity :-)claudine

  21. “There is nothing, he said, that is beyond what science can reveal and explain.” I too, have a great respect and admiration for science… however it is an intellectual venture (I think). As powerful as our intellect may be, it is perhaps not the best tool for touching the vastness of existence. A-B-C… better to hug a tree.. a beautiful post. Best wishes Shimon.

  22. While science has shown us many things about the Universe that we did not understand a few years back, I still believe there is a power out there that gives us hope and strength. That strength seems to be amplified for me when I am in close connection with nature. Always enjoy reading your posts.

  23. L’chaim Shimon.

    A delightful post and yet there is a great depth. I was going to write ‘well’ but I do not think that is what I truly mean. The nuances of the English language sometimes require a bit of interrogation!
    The word Atonement has serious sounding connotations, it seems paradoxical to equate it with the lighter tones of happiness, yet I do understand what you are saying.
    A very intent and regal Nechama wearing a collar…is it a recent addition?

  24. Somehow I missed this last post … thinking of you often, Shimon … kisses to you, and the beautiful Israeli cat there is … smiles … me ? still singing my song … smiles … http://www.youtube.com/embed/oSjeQ7Ia4U4?rel=0&controls=0&showinfo= … Always, cat.

  25. I used to have a book by Rabbi Nachman…I may still have it buried under all the later ones.I was very drawn to him.
    Everyone perceives the world differently and we can’t know how another person sees it.
    After my mother died,all the houses in the street seemed to be leaning forwards at an angle.I found it disturbing but it made me realise we have no idea what other people are seeing and so we should respect their viewpoints even welcome different ones to enlarge our own ways of seeing.Though before that happened I’d never imagined houses might look different to other people…
    I think the story form of many Jewish writings appeals to me.
    How sweet the name Nechama sounds.. she looks alert and happy…..hope you are too.:)

  26. A lovely positive post, Shimon, and I enjoyed the song video. I always enjoy reading your words of wisdom. 🙂

  27. What a wonderful post. I hope your Yom Kippur was beautiful. The link to the song is great. I found this all to be uplifiting in just the right way. Thank you!

  28. I so enjoy your posts about the Jewish faith and your wonderful teachers. Such wisdom to which you so eloquently add yours. I hope your holiday was wonderful and you are now feeling fresh and renewed. Those holy days where large numbers of people send prayers out together creates a ripple effect around the world and whether we know it or not, we do feel it…

  29. Lovely, Shimon. I agree that science can answer many questions, but there are some it cannot answer.

  30. Usually sharing rituals and following customs helps is to feel at home on this Earth.You are fortunate that you have got a living tradition to dwell in…it’s a miracle that it’s survived so long

  31. You have to think about the wrongs you have done to others or even to yourself in the past year.Then you have to try to make them right.
    Do you have to apologise or just make peace within?It seems like a very hard day to me.But maybe I am more wicked than you are.I would not enjoy a whole day like that although I can see it’s a good idea in theory.I’d rather do it once a week.
    So,how can you love it so much?Now,of course,you are not subject to certain temptations of the flesh but you can still tell lies or hurt people in other ways.You may seize all the best food for yourself or say sarcastic things to people.Or you may attack yourself for hidden sins… but even if it’s only a few things it must be painful thinking about them for 24 hours.
    I wish some politicians had to do this but good intentions and repentance don’t always lead to the right actions.That is one of thr problems for us humans.Insight is not enough.
    I find it very interesting thet the custom has lasted so long as many Catholics gave up confession of sins years ago.
    You seem very artisticly talented which is a great asset in getting into the depths of life
    ?

  32. Thankyou Shimon for your beautiful thoughts … I wish to hug the whole world too … Your writing touches my soul …

  33. I went to college to study science, and the very first day the professor stood at the front of the room and told us there is no God, and to put aside such foolishness. I felt such sadness for him. And yes, I did go out and hug a tree that day, some 35 years ago.
    I cherish your posts, Shimon, because sacredness is so lacking in the world. I think it is an act of great generosity for you to share the Jewish traditions that you write about, and I thank you.
    The music was beautiful. For some reason it reminded me of something I read yesterday: “No matter where life takes you, wherever you stand at this moment is holy ground.”

  34. According to Feedbin, you have a new post titled “It’s a cruel world,” but I can’t link to it. (Today is October 17.)

  35. Yes,it was on google as well

  36. Dear Shimon … I am so glad to find you are still posting. For some reason my blog which used to announce new posts, seems to have slacked off … or perhaps I’m going directly to “edit”. And this lovely post honoring the Day of Atonement …. Stephen Hawking … and hugging trees ….resonates with me on so many levels.

    But first, I would indeed argue with Hawking.

    The more I study this miraculous Cosmos …. with the Universe expanding and moving outwards at an ever increasing speed … I am in awe.. Then I look at my sister’s micro-photos of cells and the basic structures of the material world … I am even more awed. When I put it all together and feel the energy throbbing though and around me … I know there IS something creating these miracles. God is a good enough word for it.

    ( And I’m a tree hugger. The first time I got arrested. In India. I wrapped myself around a huge banyan and refused to let the city crew cut it down. Later after petitions and protests, a law was passed protecting every tree older than thirty years. And each one was given a number painted on its trunk. My golden hour. Trees have wonderful energy too … )

    So pleased to have found you again … and relieved you are well and still writing these delightful and inspiring posts …

  37. I believe that our humanity is trancends both science and religion. Good to hear from you again and know that you are well. A bit belated, but iwis yu a very happy new year.

  38. The Creation is a scientific Marvel. And some one / something / they / he /she /it……has / have………. created it.

    There is a system in place which works !!

    It may not “appear” to be working for us – not a big deal.

    So every thing is quite clear (at least, to me or for me ), till religion / religions, come into PLAY.

    Religions tend to blind and absolute religions and too many, blind absolutely.

    A scientist can not deny a scientific Marvel and I am trying to be scientific.
    It… HAS……helped !!

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