Leave a Message Hon, We Out

Thursday, 20 January, 2022 - 4:23 pm

Back in the days of answering machines, a friend of ours had a message recorded in the yattiest of yat intonations and it went like this. “Leave a message hon, we out!”

I had a conversation with someone this week who expressed to me that they sometimes dream of the possibility of “checking out.” Not in the suicide sense, G-d forbid, but in the escapism sense. Imagine an existence where we’re neither challenged by the necessity of taking care of physical needs, nor by the desire to engage in earthly pursuits? If only we could be in a realm where it was all spiritual all the time, and we communed with the Divine without any static from our bodily life.

Sefer Yetzirah, one of the earliest works of Kabbala, states, “Im ratz lib’cha, shuv l’echad – If you heart races, return to one.” What is intended with the racing of the heart? The Chasidic masters teach, that it means a strong yearning for undistracted closeness to Hashem, to the extent that one’s individuality is subsumed within the Divine. So, the heart races toward Divinity. This can be a powerfully uplifting experience. It can serve as a catalyst for explosive positive change in one’s life.

This can also be very dangerous. A person can so savor the experience of the closeness, that they lose the desire for physical life. After tasting the sweetness and seeing the light, why would anyone want to have to deal with rush hour traffic, bills, smartphone notifications, workplace politics, any politics for that matter, the pandemic, family tensions, and much more? At that point the attitude becomes, “Leave a message hon, we out!”

The solution, declares Sefer Yetzirah, is “Shuv L’echad – Return to One.” When we recall that Hashem entrusted us with the mission of revealing His Oneness in all of creation, this spurs us to return and bounce back from the racing of the heart, to a regular everyday life of doing what Hashem wants of us. When every encounter is shaped by the drive to fulfill our Divine mission, what was previously ho-hum and mundane, can suddenly be perceived in dizzying techno-color terms. Ultimately, we discover, that the greatest heights, far beyond where we went with our racing heart, can only be reached in this lowest and most corporeal plane of existence.

So now, the new recording on the answering machine is, “Leave a message hon, we in!”

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

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