About Love

by Rabbi Shefa Gold

(Rosh Hashanah 5762, 2001)

Less than a week ago, our lives were shaken. Images of destruction, the faces of anguish, the sounds of grief searing through our hearts, resting as fear in the pit of our bellies. I was sure that I wanted to talk about Love this Rosh Hashanah. As the suffering and rubble of lower Manhattan began to lose its unreality and its awful truth began to sink in, I wavered for a long moment, filled with doubt, overwhelmed with the responsibility of clearing away all that dust and rubble, so that I can remember again who I am, who we are together. How can I talk about love at a time like this? How can I NOT talk about love at a time like this?

On this Rosh Hashanah we gather to clear the way for a new beginning. We come together to create sacred space and open our hearts, and make a powerfully witnessed resolve to live open-heartedly. We come together at this High Holy time to help each other return to that, which is most essential. Our lives get so very cluttered with detail and fear and worry and plans and disappointments and manipulations, with our preferences and ideas about reality, our "shoulds" and "if onlys". After the full ripening of summer, the forces of nature strip away the outer husk and send us within to find the place at The Center where new seeds can bury themselves. What we find on this journey to the Center becomes then the anchor and beginning point for our lives- the seed of who we are becoming. Identifying with that center, which is called in our tradition, "The Holy of Holies," allows us to live from our freedom, rather than living from compulsion, addiction, or fear.

The holiest moment of the year in ancient times was when the High Priest entered the Holy of Holies and then came out and spoke the Great Name to the people. Today each of us is appointed as High Priest and Priestess, and we begin the journey towards the Center, towards our unique Essence and Truth, so that we may emerge from these depths into Freedom.

We are a people defined by Freedom. Each day in our liturgy we recall the Exodus from Egypt and our transformative journey from the narrow mindset of slavery to the expansive and openhearted place of promise that is flowing with milk and honey.

Again and again God gives us the secret to freedom, but it takes an open heart and the full power of our humanity to even hear that secret. Over and over again we are told, "I brought you out of the land of Egypt to Be Your God." That is the secret of your freedom - it is to be in loving relationship with me, the one who frees you. The moment you close yourself off from me, you are back in Egypt, locked in the chains of ego, the limitations of the small separate self. Especially at times of tragedy, the choice becomes clear. I can respond from fear or I can respond from my love and accept the freedom and vulnerability that God offers to me in relationship.

Rabbi Akiva was a great mystic who heard this secret and who could hear the invitation to true freedom. When the Sanhedrin was deciding which books would become part of our canon, which of the ancient writings would become Torah, Akiva argued on behalf of the Song of Songs, saying, "All of the Torah is Holy, but The Song of Songs is The Holy of Holies." He also said that, "If the Torah had not been given, we could have lived our whole lives according to The Song of Songs."

He knew that if you are really in love with God, all thoughts, words and actions will proceed from that love and manifest as compassion, connection and righteousness.

Hearing the call of Love -

The first challenge that The Song gives us is to really listen to Love's voice. Just as our central prayer, the Sh'ma, commands us to Listen that we might attune ourselves to Echad, the Oneness, we are asked in The Song to hear the call of Love and to receive the gaze of the Beloved.

The voice of my beloved: listen!

Bounding over the mountains

Toward me, across the hills.

My love is a gazelle, a wild stag.

There he stands on the other side

Of our wall, gazing between the stones.

Song of Songs 2:8


The call of Love is a call to the fullness of living - a call to receive whatever Life is offering us as an opportunity to savor the embodied experience of being human, alive and unique. Hearing the sounds of tenderness and rage, misery and delight, listening carefully and deeply, softening the armor around the heart so that we can be seduced enticed, called back to our passion…. God is waiting just beyond the wall, for us to come to our senses.

These are the Questions that we can all contemplate together: How have I closed my heart? To suffering, to joy, to the awesome world around me? How have I become deaf to the wailing and rejoicing that surrounds me? Have I gotten too busy to stop and listen? Has my life gotten too noisy to hear the still small voice that is calling me?


Making the Invitation

After listening to Love's call we must find in ourselves a response, a generous invitation. That invitation requires 3 gestures of the soul. The first is to say "Hineni. Here I am!" Which is to make a commitment to being fully present and available. The second is to awaken the yearning within and to sanctify that yearning. The third gesture is to make space - to open up to the flow of Grace.

Awake, north wind! O south wind, come,

Breathe upon my garden,

Let its spices stream out.

Let my lover come into his garden

And taste its delicious fruit.

Song of Songs  4:16

More Questions for us: How have I been absent-minded, spaced-out, and forgetful? What is it in my life that drains me of energy and presence? Where have I buried the deep and powerful longing for love and meaning? When do I accept cynicism in its place? How will I make space in my life for mystery, for Divine Presence?

Our Response (responsibility - ability to respond) -

And then The Song wakes us up to our potential for tragedy in Love - how easy and common it is for us to miss each other. Each moment The Beloved calls to us and usually we are too distracted to notice. The possibility of consummation in each moment is thwarted by being too lazy or stubborn or fearful of self-absorbed to answer the knock on the door when it comes at an inconvenient time. My Responsibility (my ability to respond) rests in the vibrancy of my presence and my willingness to engage love and risk everything.

I was asleep but my heart stayed awake.


My lover knocking:

"Open, my sister, my friend,

My dove, my perfect one!

My hair is wet, drenched

With the dew of night."

"But I have taken off my clothes,

How can I dress again?

I have bathed my feet,

Must I dirty them?"

My love reached in for the latch

And my heart beat wild.

I rose to open to my love,

My fingers wet with myrrh,

On the doorbolt.

I opened to my love

But he had slipped away.

Song of Songs   5:2


And Still more Questions: How do I get stuck? How has inertia set in? What keeps me from leaping up and running to answer the door when the Beloved is knocking? Why do I hesitate?


Love Itself Revealed -

The last challenge of the Song of Songs is to receive the wisdom of love and be transformed by it. In fully loving the Other, I am opened to myself. Every flaw is revealed. And my divine potential is also revealed. Love is the great cosmic force that turns me inside-out, humbles me and lifts me up in majesty.


Bind me for a seal upon your heart,

A sign upon your arm,

For love is as fierce as death, its jealousy bitter as the grave.

Even its sparks are a raging fire, a devouring flame.

Great seas cannot extinguish love,

No river can sweep it away.

Song of Songs    8:6

As I write these words, the fires of destruction are still raging in NYC and the dust has not settled. The great seas of grief threaten to extinguish the flames of love and the face of Death shows itself as fierce as Love. The seal upon my heart is my faith in Love and the sign upon my arm is the strength and courage to continue. My response to this and every tragedy must be renewed again and again - each day choosing life, with each encounter finding my most compassionate response to this moment. To make this choice of Love, I have to stay very conscious. It's so easy to slip into the instinctual reaction of trying to protect myself when I feel most vulnerable. And when that happens I am back in Egypt, back in slavery. To make this choice of Love, in the presence of so much hatred and destruction, we need each other, for support, encouragement, inspiration, reminders, and comfort. To make this choice of Love, we need a daily spiritual practice that will wake us up to the sacred here and now and dissolve the fears that lead to hatred.

Let us resolve this Rosh Hashanah to celebrate life, and to use this precious time that we have together to purify our hearts so that we can become instruments of the Great Love. We can resolve today to ask the question each day, "What can I do today to honor the beauty and wonder of my world?


Rabbi Shefa can be reached by email at: Shefa@RabbiShefaGold.com

Rachmiel O'Regan can be reached by email at: CDEEP@RabbiShefaGold.com

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