Yearning of the Heart - Psalm 27 and the High Holiday Season
Delivered in August 2015/Elul 5775
Shabbat Shalom! It's so wonderful to be here with all of you to celebrate Shabbat, on this special week where Rabbi Vogel, Cherina, and I are all leading together.
When I was about 2 and a half years old, before my younger sister was born, I had a game I loved to play with my parents when went for walks in the neighborhood or in the woods. I would run ahead of them, and crouch down on the path, pretending to be lost. They would come and exclaim over finding me, and scoop me up in their arms. I loved it, especially the moment of reveal, when I'd hear their delight at the discovery, and then the moment of reunion, when I'd feel the warmth of their arms.
Many children play versions of this game, and in reflecting on this high holiday season, and the special Psalm 27 that we traditionally recite every day of this month of Elul, we can read this childhood game as stemming from a human spiritual dynamic.
Psalm 27 is chock full of powerful spiritual imagery. But there is one line that has puzzled, delighted, and captivated me for years:
Lcha amar libi bakshu pani
Et panaich Adonai Avakesh
לְךָ ׀ אָמַר לִבִּי בַּקְּשׁוּ פָנָי אֶת־פָּנֶיךָ יְהֹוָה אֲבַקֵּשׁ:
To you, or on your behalf, my heart says, "seek my face!" Your face, O God, I will seek!
In these powerful lines, we are seeking God. But we are also imploring God, from our deepest hearts, to seek us.
The Sfat Emet, beloved 19th century Chasidic master, teaches of the נקודה פנימיות, nekudah p'nimiut, the internal spark of the Holy that is within each of us. This sparkis constantly longing to return to union with the All, to uplift and recognize the holiness that is inherent in all of us.
But in order for our heart to yearn for union with God, and in order for the Cosmic Source of Life to know us and to seek us, there must be some kind of separation. My teacher Rabbi Art Green writes
"The One that is beyond division becomes divided and enters into this universe of fragmentation so that there is one who can respond to it... The revealer needs an other to whom to be revealed... Love needs an other (Seek my Face, Speak My Name, page 65).
In one of Psalm 27's most well-known verses, the psalmist cries out"Only one thing do I ask from God – to dwell in God's house." Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi z''l beautifully translates this line as "Just this alone do I seek: I want to be at home with you, Yah."
The high holiday season is a time where we dip deep into that feeling of homesickness – homesickness for our truest selves, for the sense of the holy in our lives, for the warm hearth of our own healthy hearts.
Judaism is a religion of exile and yearning – but from a spiritual level, this exile is not actually negative. It is descriptive of the human condition, and Judaism understands this and elevates it. We as embodied creatures long for connection to Source, but our tradition teaches that it is only through our differentiation from God that God gets a partner to love, a partner in yearning, a partner in reflection.
I felt very secure with my parents as a child, but I longed for that sense of distance in order to return to them. That's why ran ahead on the path, that's why I rejoiced in being found again. As we prepare for the high holidays, may we feel the homesickness for our own selves, for our Source, and may we recognize it as a holy yearning to seek and to be sought after. And finally, may we find moments where we are blessed with a sense of homecoming.