By Rabbi Shohama
Good Yuntif, everyone. It’s so good to see you. And seeing – you, me, God, and how we live, is our spiritual theme this year, and what I’m going to talk about. But first, a little background.
In December of 1986, shortly after I was ordained as a rabbi, one of my closest mentors passed on. Rabbi Hershel Matt of blessed memory was a tsaddik in my eyes, a righteous person who treated everyone with kindness, and not only taught prayer, but was a living example of someone who loved God and people. Because his soul ascended on Shabbat Vayechi, which means “and he lived,” I wrote a song based on the words from the Zohar’s commentary on that Torah portion.
The name of the song is Ta Chazi, Aramaic for “Come and See,” words the Zohar emphasizes. (The Zohar is considered one of Judaism’s most holy texts, and foundational to the study of Kabbalah, Jewish mysticism. While we don’t know for sure whether the Zohar was given to Moses on Mt. Sinai or written down by Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai in the 2nd century, or by other rabbis in the thirteenth century, we do know that it continues to inspire new generations of spiritual seekers.)
Given our High Holiday theme this year of seeing more clearly and deeply, it seemed to me that this teaching from the Zohar was worthy of sharing tonight. For the few of you who may recall this text from the Zohar class I taught here fourteen years ago, I hope tonight you will see it through new eyes.
In the visionary interpretation of the Torah portion Vayechi, the Zohar reiterates the words Ta Chazi, come and see. Chazi means see- and Ta means come. Come near. This is our challenge for Yom Kippur. We must come close to see clearly what is blocking being our fullest self. Is it pride, or anger, or fear, all of the above, or something else?
The song Ta Chazi claims that we can’t go it alone. We’re partners, you and me. Partners with other people, and partners with the Holy One. There is power in human numbers and even more power in working with the Divine realm.
Ta Chazi— come and see, repeats the Zohar; the future is ours to weave. The subtle reference I see here is to Joseph and his woven coat of many colors, although the person named is Jacob who is at the end of his life. Joseph was the favorite son of Jacob, thrown into a pit by his jealous brothers, sold as a slave into Egypt, who miraculously rose to be chief advisor to the Pharaoh, and saved the Israelites from famine by bringing them to Egypt. Despite enormous challenges, over time and with God’s help Joseph turned his challenges into opportunities.
That is the opportunity we all have, if we see it, to turn our challenges into opportunities. The metaphor about the coat of many colors referred to in the Zohar says each of our days is like a thread in the fabric that we will wear when our soul leaves our body. If we live with love and caring for others, and for our world, we will have a tightly woven and beautiful garment. But each day that we don’t do the best we can we will have a thread with holes in it to add to that garment. Thus the question, will we weave a life of holes or of holiness?
The song continues, Ta Chazi– within each of us burns a holy spark of light, a spark representing the neshama, the soul that we were born with, pure and bright. A prayer in the daily morning service says Elohai neshama she natata bi tehorah hi, the soul that you God have given me is pure. When we connect that soul with God, we will be free to be our fullest and best self.
Please listen as I sing for you the Zohar’s commentary as I see it.
Ta Chazi (Come and See)
Ta chazi, come and see, Ta chazi, come and see
What the world, what the world could be.
Ta chazi, come and see, we’re partners, you and me.
Ta chazi, it could be, ta chazi it could be
A place for love, a place for being free.
Ta chazi, come and see, we’re needed, you and me.
Ta chazi, we are weaving our days for the life to be
A life of holes or of holiness
Ta chazi, come and see– the future is ours to weave.
Ta chazi, when it’s dark, within our souls burns a holy spark
A spark of light that glows and grows
Ta chazi, come and see—the light that’s meant to be.
Ta chazi, we are not alone.
Come and see, there’s the Holy One
Right at hand with a palm outstretched.
Ta chazi, come and see with God alone we’re free.
With God alone we’re free.
With God alone we’re free.
That song came to me during difficult and troubling times. We are still living in difficult and troubling times, especially in our country and in the world. My colleague Rabbi Sharon Brous quoted a recent Pew Study which found that 7 out of 10 people were overwhelmed by the daily news. “What gives with the other 3?” she asked.
How do we keep hope in the midst of deeply disturbing events? One of the writings that gives me hope when I feel surrounded by painful news is from Anne Frank’s Diary of a Young Girl, in her entry for Saturday, July 15, 1944. It puts my life into perspective,
“In spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart. I simply can’t build up my hopes on a foundation consisting of confusion, misery, and death. I see the world consisting of confusion, misery, and death. I see the world gradually being turned into a wilderness, I hear the ever-approaching thunder, which will destroy us too. I can feel the sufferings of millions and yet, if I look up into the heavens, I think that it will all come right, that this cruelty too will end, and that peace and tranquility will return again.
In the meantime, I must uphold my ideals, for perhaps the time will come when I shall be able to carry them out.”
While Anne Frank didn’t survive the Holocaust, her diary did, and her life still stands as a model of moral bravery and courage. We listened to Kol Nidre earlier this eve—and we know that we will not be able to carry out all our good intentions, but that we are called to try. The promise of Yom Kippur is that with our own efforts, and with the help of those in the world of spirit—relatives, spirit guides, angels, and the Divine Holy One, we can make a difference for the future.
This Yom Kippur, what promises do you want to make for the year that lies ahead? How will you make this world a better place? First for yourself and your family, then for our country, our people and the land of Israel, and lastly for the earth and the universe that we all share. This holy day we are asked to fast from pleasures of eating and drinking that we might focus on what needs fixing, internally and externally, and how we may be part of that. May this Yom Kippur serve us well, that we may see the changes we need to make and see the path to making them.
It is one thing to see what we want, and quite another to implement that vision. Our tradition offers us the concept of saying 100 blessings a day. Perhaps not literally 100, but of appreciating as many moments as possible for their potential gifts, and for seeing that which we want to bring into our life.
As an everyday example, if we have a difficult phone call to make we might see ourselves smiling and thanking the other person for being helpful. That is a spiritual form of snapchat, and a way of blessing the call. On a larger scale, if there is a life altering shift we want we might ask for the Guidance to achieve it with the highest possible outcome for all. I leave it to your imagination to see how this might work in your life.
Tonight is the beginning of a full night and day for self-reflection. Dan l’chaf zechut, judge with a focus on the person’s merit, teaches the Talmud. May we see ourselves through eyes that judge with clarity and compassion as well as justice. While we hope to do better, may we also appreciate the many times when we have been generous, and caring.
Then this holy day of Yom Kippur will provide the cleansing and the reboot needed for a fresh start. Ken yehi ratzon. May that come to be!