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High Holidays: How Do I Become Close To God?
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But, I want to show you that as radical as that idea sounds, it’s actually a foundation of our daily prayers. We say it every day and don’t even realize that we are saying it. There is a prayer which we often don’t pay that much attention to. Too many think it’s kind of juvenile, because when it is sung in synagogue, it’s usually a little kid who comes up to the beam and sings it.
It’s at the end of davening, maybe you are taking off your tallits, schmoozing with your friend, thinking about Kadesh when the song is being sang; but, the song which I am referring to is, ‘Adon Olam’. And it is anything, but a juvenile song. It is majestic, powerful, and soul stirring. It is Hannah’s taught which emanates what this song is really about.
Let me take a look at that song with you for just a moment. The song I want to suggest to you has three main parts to it. Whenever you look at biblical poetry, I think it will help you not get lost with this whole maze of word. It is helpful to just ask yourself, what are the pieces here and how does the pieces hold together?
So, here I think is the first major piece of the song. Let’s try to give it a title in our minds as we go through this. Adon olam asher malach – “The Master of the Word, the Master of the Universe who was King beterem kol yetzir nivra even before any creature in this whole universe was ever created.”
In other words, God is so majestic that even when he was alone in the universe, the only being that existed in his own lofty realm, in his luminous solitude, there was majesty on that. But, he was like a majestic King waiting for a nation. Nothing else existed yet.
L’et na’asah v’cheftzo kol – “That all changed when suddenly there was something else out of nothings else. When all came into being according to his word then his Kingship was real. It wasn’t just potential anymore.” Azai melech shmo nikra – “Then He could truly be called King.”
And now, having talked about the period of time before creation in which God was potentially King, we now fast-forward throughout the hands of time to the end, to the very end.
V’acharei kichlot hakol – “And after it’s all over, when the final star has collapsed into a fiery supernova, l’vado yimloch nora, when there is nothing else anymore, and he is once again alone, yimloch nora, He will still be Master, nora, in his awesome solitude.” Hu hayah – “He was,” v’hu hoveh, He is, v’hu yihyeh, He always will be b’tifara in majesty.”
And, this being this creator, the foundation of it all, - who is he?
V’hu echad – “He is one.
V’ein sheni – There is no two.”
But, his oneness is different from the oneness that you and I are talking about even as oneness is a mystery. L’hamshil lo – You can’t analogize anything to him. In that sense, he is one. You can’t say, God is kind of like X and Y, he is sort of like this, he is sort of like that. He is sort of like nothing. He is ultimately beyond anything we can experience.
L’hamshil lo l’hachbira – “One cannot conceivably attach anything to God to become part of him.” The notion of parts with reference to God, it is order futility to think that way. It is what philosophers call a simple unity; a oneness that cannot be divided. We don’t experience anything like that in our world. In this way too, he is orderly Kadosh, orderly different from us.
Here is my table, its one table. If I take an axe to this table, it’s two tables. Here is an atom, if I put it in a supercollding supercollider, all of a sudden, it is many subatomic particles. Any one we have in this world can potentially be a two. God is a one with no potential to be two. Bli reishit bli tachlit – He has no beginning, he has no end. V’lo ha’oz v’hamisrah – The very concept of power and sovereignty are owned by this God. He truly is the Master of the Universe.
Now, stop right here. Imagine that ‘Adon Olam’ ended here and we play it. What’s next? What’s next with your emotions? So, what do you think of this God? Powerful, alone and solitude, incomprehensible, defining him, analogizing who he is, orderly impossible. What do you think of this God? He is Kadosh, separate, orderly different than me. Are you cut off from this God? Couldn’t care or less about you? Maybe you don’t care or less about him. A mighty God, yes, but a personal God?
Listen to the next words. A turning, an outstanding turning point in the song!
V’hu – And this God which we’ve just described with everything about him that is so incomprehensible,
Eli – He is not just God, He is my God.
V’chai goali – He is my living dynamic Redeemer. He is there for me when I’m in trouble.
Tzur chevli – He is my rock. There is that word from Hannah. My foundation stone, but not just the foundation stone of the universe, my personal foundation stone when I am in trouble;
B’et tzarah – Whenever I found myself in narrowness, He can help me break out of that.
Hu nisi – He is my banner, I hold him a lot in times of triumph. I revel in my association with him.
Umanos li– In times that are terrible, I found refuge in him. He is there in my triumphs; He is there in my agony.
M’nat kosi b’yom ekra – He is my portion all the time. Whenever I call to him, I found him there for me.
That is part two. And now, part three. Part three puts together part one and part two and shows what happens when you bring these two together. Because, it’s one thing to talk about God as alone, as majestic, and mighty; and it’s another thing to talk about a personal God.
Adon Olam’s point is not just that you can talk about a mighty God, and not just that you can talk about a personal God, but these are one and the same. My personal God is that completely mysterious astonishing force that is the source of it all. And therefore, every single day, I live my life differently. Here is how!
B’yado – “In his hand
Afkid ruchi – I entrust my soul
B’et ishan – Every night when I go to sleep
V’a’irah– And I wake up!”
I believe the way to read that is with an exclamation mark.
B’et ishan; v’a’irah! – “And lo and behold God vindicates my trust in him every morning! I wake up and you know what? I have my soul back because he gave it back to me.”
Every single day, I engage in an incredible act of faith almost without thinking about it. I willingly go to sleep. The act of going to sleep is an act of letting go. You know that moment, your head is on your pillow, you’re conscious, you’re holding on, and slowly you begin to drift off. Do you let you yourself drift off?
Those of us who struggle with insomnia, there’s lots of reason for insomnia, some of it its caffeine, some of it its existential fear, “can I let myself go? Where is my soul going now? Can I really allow my soul to depart? Where is it going? To that God, the personal God who is there to receive my soul! The mystery of mysteries! Every morning, God gives me my soul back. It reinforces my ability to go to sleep the next night and the night after that.
And now, the author of this song makes a jump, a jump from sleep, astonishingly to death. It as if he is saying, what is this do for me? This ritual I go through night after night of letting go and falling into sleep. It gives me the courage to do something else, to really let go when that is demanded of me.
When do I really let go? When I face death; when I need to give not just my soul, but my body; everything back. It’s all just something I have for certain amount of time and then I need to give it back to my Creator. That mystery of mysteries! And I need to trust, trust that he will be there on the other side.
So, b’yado afkid ruche b’et ishan v’a’irah– “In his hand I will place my soul every night when I go to sleep, and in the morning I wake up I am vindicated. And one day im ruche along with my soul, not just will it I entrust to God, g’viyati but along with that my body. Adonai li, My Master, He is mine. V’lo ira, and I shall not fear.”
Part one, two, and three.
Part one: The God who is Kadosh, who is inconceivable, powerful, sovereign, Master of all.
Part two: That God is my God.
Part three: How it makes a difference to me every single day because that God, the mighty God, He is my God. That is why I can go to sleep. That is why I can trust him.
You know, if God was just my body, I could trust, but he would have no power to help me. How could I ever go to sleep, how could I entrust something like my soul to someone with no power? He must be the Master of the universe. He must have power for me to be able to give him my soul in sleep and in death.
But, if all God was, was powerful, luminous, alone, mysterious, but I was not connected to him, I was not close to him, He was not my God, then I could not give my soul to him either. It is at the juncture of one and two together that allows for three, that allows for me every day to act in faith, to give my soul to the loving God who is full of power and mystery, and ultimately to give myself back in death.
In a deep kind of way, what the singer of this song is really saying is that part one and two are not really two parts, they are the same part. V’hu Eli – That God, the mystery of mysteries God, that God is my personal God. He is being Kadosh. He is being separate. The meaning of that is He is my source. And because He is my source, because I come from him, then He can be, then He is, and off course He is my personal God. He is my banner. He is my refuge. He is all that, because He is my source. How could He be otherwise? It is in that that He is separate, that his great mystery lays, and it is in that that His great closeness to me lays, and that is why I can go to sleep, that’s why I can die.
So, here we are now facing Rosh Hashanah, facing Yom Kippur, facing these days of awe. We will spend most of our time in synagogue, in shul. We will spend most of our time in prayer. The master forces us to confront the majesty of God. But, let us not be intimated of this majesty and relinquish the task before us. Let us understand that the majesty of God is not something that should frighten us so much as it should beacon us to draw near. The majesty of God and his nearness to us are one and the same thing. Kedusha – Holiness, is what closeness with God is made out of.
This Rosh Hashanah, this Yom Kippur, whenever you find your mind wondering, ground yourself in the notion of what that holiness really means. God is more real than the chair you are sitting on, than the floor you are standing on. God is more real than anything you know. And as your source understands you intimately, your source understands you, understand who you really are.
Hannah poured her soul out to God understanding that He is the source, understanding that there was nothing to hide, that she could bring all of her emotion, even the not pretty ones into prayer. That is the definition of pray.
This Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, you have been called upon to pray. Be real, be close, the God of holiness can ask nothing more from you than that.
Hey folks! So, that was all Rosh Hashanah course for the year. I really hope you enjoyed it. We want to point you to the direction of a couple of other High Holiday offerings here.
First of all, last year’s course on the book of Jonah is actually wonderful. I really encourage you to take a look. Beyond that, we’ve also got a great course – “Is there a right way to do Teshuvah?”
And finally, I want to call your attention to our concluding series of Parsha videos. The last three Parsha videos this year are actually all focusing on the Teshuvah theme. We are really creating a three parts series climaxing the final Parsha video of all, V’zot HaBrachah.
Please take a look at this and don’t forget to support us. We are able to do what we can do because of our wonderful members. Become a member we love you. We love you even if you don’t. But, become a member anyway.
This is Rabbi David Fohrman. Have a great High Holiday season!
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