Drash on Parashat Re'eh / Rosh Chodesh 2018
Rabbi David Kunin
Jewish Community of Japan
Ellul should be a month of preparation. The opportunities presented by Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are too important to leave to last minute preparation. A spiritual journey is a lifelong process, with ups and downs. To reach the high points we need to meditate and consider how we can spiritually reach out, both to the Divine and to creation. Rosh Hodesh Ellul is a beginning and the High Holidays are way posts of a spiritual journey that should last for the rest of our lives.
As with every journey, we need a beginning, and where better that Alef, the beginning of the alph-bet (the letters of the Torah and of our lives).
Atah “You” a seemingly simple word expresses the essence of t’filah. Atah has a power that goes beyond meaning. Within the t’filot it is a signifier for God. Rather than “you” it is always “You.” Yet elsewhere “you”, most often signifies another human. While these two meanings seem distant, to a great degree this distance is an illusion.
The very consonants of אתהhint at the hidden dimensions of the word. The first two (aleph and tof) are especially important, being the first and last letters of the Hebrew Alphabet. They teach us that the letters of “You” (read God) represent the entirety of creation Yet, the ה, the last letter is also essential, and adds a new dimension of meaning. Together the three letters hint at the very complexity of our paradoxical understanding of the Divine, the “You” in all its dimensions.
א(Aleph) represents the beginning of the creative process. But Aleph lacks a sound. It is an emptiness, indeed a “no-thing,” which is in and encompasses everything. The silence of the “Aleph” is the silence or seeming absence of the Divine; it is seeming utter transcendence, utter emptiness and existence beyond all comprehension. The “Taf” comes at the very end of the Aleph-bet and is the fullest expression of the Divine as revealed in materiality.
Each of our spiritual journeys reaches as high as we can, removing layer upon layer of materiality. Yet, despite our efforts, it seems impossible to pierce all the way to the “Aleph,” the essence.
The “ה”, a letter which can both be silent and vocalized, teaches that these aspects of the Divine only seem distinct and distant, but in truth are one, and can be apprehended in every aspect of creation and our lives.
Consider the parable of the prince who was far away from his father. His friends said to him: Return to your father. He replied: I cannot. Thereupon his father sent word to him saying: Come back as far as you can, and I will go out the rest of the way to meet you.
During Elul as we engage in spiritual reflection we have a special opportunity to seek out the “You” the Divine, in all aspects both hidden and revealed, and as we search we may find that it is also revealed in the “you” each human with whom we interact.