24 October 2005

The Karliner Chassid and The Rich Man

I heard this story from Rav Sholom Brodt, and have been telling it over Sukkot, and really connecting to it. A couple people asked that I write it up, so here it is. I just have a hint of the depth of it. If anyone can comment with any insight, it would be appreciated. Hag Sameach!

There was a Karliner chassid. He lived in a small town, in a small, broken down house. He didn't have much of anything, but he was joyous.

Every year, when Sukkot came, he would wait until everyone else had built their sukkot, and he would go around and ask for whatever they had left over - a rotted board, a rusted nail. From these leftovers he would build his sukkah, and all seven days he would sit in his sukkah and sing with great joy.

Across the field from the chassid lived a rich man. He owned the local factory and employed most of the town. His house was large, and he didn't lack for any material thing. The rich man had everything he could imagine, but he wasn't happy. He was more than just not happy, he was really sad - downright miserable.

The sukkah that the rich man had built every year was a wonder - the size of a football field, with an oak table, candelabras, running water - everything he could imagine. But every year he sat in his sukkah, and he heard the Karliner chassid singing from across the field, and it drove him crazy - absolutely crazy.

There's nothing that makes a sad person sadder than to meet a happy person, and there's nothing that makes a sad person happier then to meet another sad person.

As Sukkos approached one year, the rich man had an idea. He went around to everyone in the town and told them, "When the Karliner chassid comes around asking for a rotted board, a rusted nail - don't give it to him." What could anyone do? The rich man owned the town. When the chassid came around to each person, he shrugged his shoulders, turned his palms up, and shook his head. Sorry, not even a rusty nail.

The day before Sukkot arrived, the rich man looked across the field and smiled - there was no sukkah outside the house of the Karliner chassid.

Sukkot came and the rich man sat in his sukkah, at his oak table, with his candelabras and everything he could imagine. He made kiddush in peace and blissful quiet. He began to eat his fish, in peace and blissful quiet. Then, from across the field, singing! He jumped up! How can it be? He looked outside and saw, across the field, a shabby sukkah propped against the Karliner chassid's house.

He ran across the field and burst in on the chassid, "Where did you get the wood for this Sukkah!"
The Karliner chassid received him with a glowing face, "Shalom Alechem! Come in! Sit down!"
Standing, the rich man repeated, "Where did you get this wood?"
"I'll be glad to tell you, just come in and sit down," the chassid told him.

The rich man's eyes darted to the chassid, the sukkah, the door, and back to the chassid. Frowning, he sat in the half broken chair across from the chassid.

The Karliner chassid said, "Let me tell you a story."

"Yesterday, I was looking around town for some way to build a Sukkah, asking for a spare board here, a spare nail there. Strangest thing, I couldn't find anything. Everyone used up just what they had, there was nothing left over.
It got pretty late, maybe 3 am, and I was still walking around town. Now, who do I run into...but the Angel of Death!
I said, 'Angel of Death! Shalom Alechem!'
and he said, 'Alechem Shalom.'
I said, 'So what brings you to town?'
and he said, 'I just have one more pick up before the holiday comes in.'
I said, 'One more pickup, huh? Mind if I ask who it is?'"

"Now you wouldn't believe," the Karliner Chassid continued, leaning forward, staring right at the rich man, "but he said your name!"

"I said, 'That guy? You came to get that guy? You don't have to bother.'
The Angel of Death said, 'Don't have to bother, huh? Why's that?'
I said, 'You don't have to bother, because that guy is so sad, it's like he's already dead.'
'He's that sad huh?'
'Yup, he's that sad.'
'Well, if he's that sad, I guess I don't have to bother. Thanks for saving me the work!'"

"Now as the Angel of Death was about to leave, I asked him for a little favor.
I said, 'Listen, I helped you out, maybe you can help me out?'
And he said, 'Sure, what can I do for you?'
I said, 'I really need a Sukkah for the holiday.'
He paused, and than said, 'You know, I'm not scheduled to be back here until after the festival. In the burial society, they have the wooden stakes they put in a new grave before they put up the headstone, the wooden stakes that say 'Here Lies' at the top. I'm not planning to be back here, so you can use those to build your Sukkah.'"

"And that's exactly what I did," the chassid said. "In fact, if you look up there, you can see that on each board, it says 'Here Lies.'"

And with that, the Karliner chassid burst into a joyous song.

19 October 2005

From Rosh Hashannah to Sukkot

On Rosh Hashannah we stand before God in his unity. He is present, and we are not. As we crown him as King, we realize that our lives, and indeed the entire world, are not necessary, are forfeit. Yet somehow we are allowed to be present to witness the majesty of the King of Kings as it exists prior to creation, and somehow he allows us to exist.

This vision to which we are witness is very real, but it is not yet part of the world that we live in, not part of the world of our daily experience.

Yom Kippur is the experience of our first turning from this vision of divine perfection to again look upon our lives. We are immediately struck by the realization that nothing we have done lives up to this vision. Everything is found lacking.

We turn to our maker and ask him to repair what we have broken, repair our bodies, minds, and souls, so that we can be vehicles for the vision of perfection that he has revealed to us. To our amazement, he accedes.

We come in to Sukkot with new eyes, a fresh soul. God tells us - take this opportunity, while you are still so wide-eyed and childlike, to look at my world. Look at everything I created. Isn't it wonderful?

We spend a week appreciating every expression of life.

In the Sukkah we appreciate space itself. In the intrinsic flimsiness of the Sukkah and the limited time that we spend in it, we appreciate each moment of time, unique and unrecoverable. With the 4 species, we appreciate the beauty and uniqueness of each piece of fruit, each branch of each tree. In the Hashannah prayers we appreciate every expression of Godliness we perceive, every aspect of Jerusalem, every way we understand ourselves, every created thing, its beauty, and its weakness.

During Sukkot, we are given the opportunity to fall in love with every little piece of the entire world. I think this is the joy of Sukkot - the joy of knowing that every place, every moment, and every thing is an incomparable gift from the incomparable One.

17 October 2005

C'mon in!

The Sukkah is up!
I only have room for a couple people at a time, but everybody's welcome!

13 October 2005

Uman, Uman, Rosh Hashannah

(This is a continuation. See "On to Uman" for the big picture, "Visiting the Holy Baal Shem" for the first part of the trip, and "From Mehzbehz to Uman" for the second part of the trip.)

Uman - Two Days to Go

For one week a year, thousands, maybe tens of thousands, of people descend on this small city. We dump a few million dollars into the hands of the local inhabitants (and the mob) and then we leave. A group of about 15 of us associated with Bat Ayin decided to stay together. The first ones in found a suitable apartment. For the week, we each pay $100. As best we can figure, in the space of this week our landlord makes just a little bit less than his annual salary.

We come in from Bat Ayin, from Jerusalem, from Tzfat, from Sharon, MA. Some people I haven't seen in years. Smiles, handshakes, people keep coming in - via Odessa, via Kiev, weary from the road.

We take over the kitchen. Everybody brought something. Two big pots, coffee, tea, beans, rice, gourmet organic chocolate, dates, tuna, tuna, tuna, salami, salami, candied pecans, dried dates, almonds, peanuts, banana chips, sardines, wine, oil, spices. Locally we find tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, water. The beans go in to soak, the rice gets checked for bugs and stones, and I ask permission to leave, "I have some urgent prayer needs."

On the street. Pass through the local shuk - cheap toys, Russian hats, shoes, knick-knacks, Coca-Cola, water, what-not. Pass through the holy shuk - books, tzitzit, music, kosher food.

The real center of action is Rebbe Nachman's grave. You can't get next to the grave. Everybody here, tens of thousands of us, wants to get close to the grave. I squeeze in, find a place to stand, take out the pocket pamphlet Tikkun Clali (see "On to Uman") that came with my plane ticket. I have a list of people to pray for, but I figure it's like in an airplane - first you take care our your own Oxygen mask...then the mask of others...each in its time...

The history of Rosh Hashannah in Uman seems to be the history of more people than there is space to daven. Recently a huge building - "The Kloise" was erected. On the top floor, where the Ashkenazi minyan is, there is seating for 1600. Today, for Maariv, it is almost empty. The evening winds down.

Uman - The Day Before

Breslovers are fanatic about the day before Rosh Hashannah. Wake up call is about 3am. Slichot prayers go until just before sunrise. The Kloise in packed to overflowing (but will get even more packed later.) There's a custom to make a confession in front of the Rebbe's grave. The old who-am-I-talking-to question comes up again - am I praying to God in the presence of the Rebbe, or talking to the Rebbe in the presence of God? Either way, I stand in front of the grave and wring out my soul. There's a custom to give a little bit of charity, as a Pidyon Nefesh ("Soul Redemption.") In the holy shuk, some of the stands are dedicated entirely to collecting Pidyon Nefesh charity, and compete with each other over loudspeakers.

Back in the apartment, the cooking has begun. Bean stew and couscous. More friends stumble in. The apartment was only set up for 10 people, but who can turn away a friend? We find space for everyone.

You can't go into Rosh Hashannah without going to the mikva. In fact no one in Uman can go into Rosh Hashannah without going to the mikva. We all go to the mikva, tens of thousands of us. Luckily, the builders of the Kloise anticipated just this occurrence, and the Mikvas are spacious, modern, and packed to overflowing with men in various stages of undress. I've often wondered how this would look from the outside. How is it, the Ukrainian police man guarding the door must ask himself, that I have become a Mikvah attendant?

A touch of a nap, a trim of the nails, on with the Shabbos clothes, out on the street, an hour before sundown.

Uman - Rosh Hashannah

I find a space on the bench outside the Kloise. I can't hear the service, but I have a small space I can call my own. I pray, facing across the river, a river of tears.

Why did Rebbe Nachman come to Uman? He spoke about the thousands of Jews who had been massacred here, how his presence (and his death) would be a fixing for their souls.

The first evening of Rosh Hashannah is somber - by design. Breslovers speak very little. It's the beginning of a court case. The evidence is against you. You've come to be with the best lawyer. It's best if you keep your mouth shut.

We cast our best intentions into the coming year - a pomegranate, some dates, some fish, bean soup. Sleep.

The Kloise is packed. Packed. Every seat is taken. Every spot to stand is taken. The aisles are packed. The stairways are packed. If you leave a spot, it's gone.

It's all a metaphor for life. You stand in a certain spot for a while, then for some reason you move on - maybe you're no longer comfortable in that spot, maybe you need a different situation, maybe you just have a wanderlust. Once you leave, you can't return. It takes faith to pick up and move. You're left in between. Maybe someone leaves their old spot just as you pass, maybe you find a spot nobody noticed, maybe you see a friend and he makes room for you - somehow a spot opens up for you where you need to be.

I spend 9 hours wandering in prayer.

By the time we finish, get home, and eat lunch (more bean soup), it's time for the afternoon prayers...and tashlich. Tens of thousands of people file down to the river along narrow roads and paths. Staggering presence of humanity. Now we are all out here in the open, roaring, rumbling crowds. Breslover's clap and cry out (like a shofar) when they pray. The air of the valley vibrates.

For the evening meal, we make rice and fry salami and put some water into the bean stew to bring it back to life.

Second day Rosh Hashannah I'm at the sunrise Sephardi minyan at the grave. Askenazim put all sorts of additions into the Rosh Hashannah prayers that the Sephardim don't. I figure that the full service by the Sephardim will be about 4 hours. I didn't realize that this minyan is dominated by the newly religious. Hours of unstoppable-runaway-train singing, standing on chairs and desks and banging the wall, hours of excited banter and blessings. In any event we're done a good 3 or 4 hours before the Ashkenazim.

I'm comparing the two services - the old school Askenazi and the young Sephardi. I figure it's like this:

The king tells his servants to make a goblet in a particular way, and gives them wine to put into the goblet.

One group of servants study the king's command, develop a rich tradition of ornamentation that echoes and reflects the command of the king, take hours and hours creating the goblet in just the right shape, in just the right way. When the time comes to pour in the wine, some people are ecstatic, but most have left, fallen asleep, gotten bored, or forgotten that there is such a thing as wine at all.

The other group of servants also study the king's command. Their depth of comprehension is no less, but they set to making the goblet with little or no added ornamentation. Before they finish - someone opens a bottle of wine and starts pouring it into the goblet! Someone drinks it! Another person joins in! Now they're all drinking right from the bottle! When the goblet is finally finished, everyone has wine all over their shirts, but there's no wine left to pour in the goblet.

Interesting thing that most of the people who come out here to the Ukraine are Sephardi.

Second day lunch. I'm aiming for fish and salad, but if you'd like there's still some bean soup...

Breslovers love to talk to God. The Rebbe teaches to pour out your heart to God like you're talking to a friend. It's a conversation, it's a meditation, it's called 'hitboddedut', and it's best done in a private place. Uman is famous for having a world class place for hitboddedut - Sophia Park.

I come to an overlook into the park and it's huge and beautiful and calling my name. I wind my way down to the entrance. Some Jews are sitting on the benches outside, and I walk past them and into the gate, and a woman puts her hand out, 1 dollar, but it's Rosh Hashannah!, I turn out my pockets, and a policeman turns up to stand in front of me, and I turn around.

Luckily there's an undeveloped piece of land nearby, and this is clearly the Jewish park, every few trees there's a Jew pouring out his heart, and I pace and talk and pace and pray and pace and gesticulate and pace and wonder and pace and pour out my pain and pace and sigh and pace and smile and pace and sing.

It's late afternoon. The gates are closing. I go back to the grave for one more Tikkun Clali.

Uman - And Home

Night hits and - Bam! - we're off. Our plane is scheduled to leave Odessa in the middle of the night. Quick! Pack! Where's my passport? You're leaving later, can you take care of the dishes? Thank You, and good too see you, and here's a word to remember each other by. Bus? Taxi? Van. Buy water, on the road, through the night, drifting in an out of dreams, rolling along a Ukrainian highway.

Odessa, police, mob, standing in a parking lot in the chilly evening, Israelis arguing with Ukrainians in no common language. Finally in the airport, no clear order, no computers, bag searches by hand, plane tickets like bus tickets, no particular seats, long wait, now late into the night. On a bus, up a staircase, on the plane, asleep, awake, dreaming awake. They drop food in front of us just as the fast is about to come in...

We return to Israel just after sunrise, pray in the baggage claim. A van takes us back to the hallowed hills of Bat Ayin...

Looking Forward, Looking Back

What am I carrying from Uman? What stays with me?
Somehow, somehow, only with God's help, I'm carrying a vision for the year and a huge reserve of strength. It's different than any other Rosh Hashannah.

People ask if I'm becoming a Breslover. I'm not entirely sure what that means. I tell them I'm becoming myself.

People ask me if I'll go back. I smile and shrug.

I think I'll be back.

09 October 2005

From Mehzbehz to Uman

(This is a continuation. See "On to Uman" for the big picture, and "Visiting the Holy Baal Shem" for the first part of the trip.)


Sunday morning we're looking to make our way back to Uman. Rosh Hashannah starts Monday night, so we're not in a terrible rush, but we've been moving at such an easy pace that most of the others who were here in Mehzbehz for Shabbos have left. After Shabbos we could not tear ourselves quickly away from the Baal Shem Tov, could not tear ourselves quickly away from the group of Israeli Hippy Chassidim who had camped out on the grass with guitars, a flute, a violin...

Now we're standing in the main square of Mehzbehz, negotiating rides by flashes of fingers and movements of the head. We're not having much success. None of us came here with much money. The last potential ride leaves the square and I settle in to learn a little bit.

There's a group here who wants to go to Uman via Berditchev and Breslov, there are a handful of Sephardi men with their sons, there are a few of the midnight-jam-on-the-grass bunch left, and there's us, an unshorn bunch of American born Chassidic Hippies who hail out of Bat Ayin.

A van pulls up. Will this be the one? Where's it headed? We check it out. We secure some seats. We're headed to Uman - via Breslov.

Breslov (and Echoes)

More Ukrainian country side. Somehow my heart is pulled after it. It reminds me so much of Upstate New York, so much of New England. Leaves are turning. We stop by the side of the road to buy apples and pears. We pass through a town that still has a statue of Lenin, still has a wrought iron hammer and sickle.

Our traveling companions are Israeli, Sephardi, fathers and their young sons. We sing as we travel - each trying our best to get into the groove of the other's songs. We pass around some food - fruit, almonds, water.

Breslov is where Rebbe Nachman spent the last major portion of his life. He went to Uman half a year before he died. Breslov is where Reb Nosson is buried. Reb Nosson was Rebbe Nachman's main student. When Reb Nosson first went to see Rebbe Nachman, Rebbe Nachman told him, "We've known each other a long time, but we haven't seen each other in a while." Almost all of what we know of Rebbe Nachman's teaching come to us through Reb Nosson. He wrote some teachings in the life of Rebbe Nachman, but most after Rebbe Nachman's passing.

When we want to communicate with our driver, we speak to him in Hebrew. He doesn't understand, and responds to us in Ukrainian? Russian? We don't understand, so we repeat what we had just said in Hebrew. Sometimes hand signals get the message across; sometimes we just give up. Somehow, after a couple hours of such interchanges, we make it to Breslov.

One of my traveling companions recalls the way to Reb Nosson'’s grave, and we bump along a back road of Breslov until we come to the end. We're in the Ukraine, but somehow I'm in Upstate New York. We're by a river. There's an old mill and the sound of a waterfall. I realize how much I miss water.

Reb Nosson is buried on the side of the hill overlooking the river, about a hundred feet up. A planked path and series of steps makes it's way up to the grave from the parking lot at the side of the river. Today, two days before Rosh Hashannah, it is well traveled.

I'm standing in the building that houses Reb Nosson's grave. What do I pray for here? It strikes me that Reb Nosson changed the world through the power of his listening, through the power of his ability to put his own business aside, and receive - in a terrifically deep way - the words of his Rebbe. I pray that the Master of the World helps me to listen, to receive, to put myself aside to make room for the life of another, the world of another, the song of another. To listen in such a way that a person can discover themselves in the depth of my listening.

I leave Reb Nosson and wander back down the hill to the river's edge, where chassidim are stripping down and jumping into the river while Ukrainian taxi drivers watch. I explore an abandoned part of the mill, catch a glimpse of the waterfall, catch echoes of my adolescence.

Rolling back up to Uman. Are you sure you know the way? Incomprehensible response. Maybe you should ask for directions? Incomprehensible response. He does know the way; the streets begin to look familiar.

We stop at an intersection. Our driver doesn't want to continue. Why? What's wrong? He points to the police on the other side of the intersection. We urge our driver on, and he's stopped. He gets out, greases the appropriate palms, climbs back in, and we continue. The mob here gets a cut of everything, and the police are just an arm of the mob. There's no shame. It's all in the open.

The streets are filled with Jews of all colors - old, young, Sephardi, Askenazi, Poland in the 1800's, Israel in the Ukraine, SanFranciscoo in the 60's, Israeli, American, European. It's a festival, full on, no stops. Everyone's here for one reason - to have the most amazing Rosh Hashannah that they have every had. Here we are, in Uman, a short 30 hours before the day...

06 October 2005

Visiting the Holy Baal Shem

Night Flight

Stowing beans and pots and gefilte fish and sardines and salt and rice and tomato paste and dates and dried pineapple and tehina and wine and bread and song and longing and prayers and hope.
Airport rolling with Chassidim heading to Uman.
Run into a familiar face - to Uman? No - to LA. Can you mention my name in Uman?

Carrying a list of names to mention, a handful of coins to give, a letter to deliver.

Odessa and on

At the foot of the stairway out of the plane, they set up a tent. Everyone passes through. In the pre-dawn, two men in very Russian looking military attire examine our passports with grim expressions. :STAMP: They pack us on to a circa 1970 Soviet Bus and drop us into a parking lot.

Too many people to bother with procedure, they back up trucks full of luggage and just unload them into the parking lot. Thousands of people are coming in for Rosh Hashannah, and we are pushing the Ukrainian infrastructure to its limits. A good few hundred of those thousands are milling around this parking lot, searching for luggage, praying the morning prayers, digging warm clothing out of their bags, scratching together breakfast, waiting for the buses that will take us 4 hours north to Uman.

When the buses come, people chase them around the parking lot, desperate to get a guaranteed seat. When a bus stops it's a mad rush - I'll load the luggage! Grab some seats! No these are taken! Yes, all of them are taken! Don't sit there! Is this your luggage in the aisle? Can you turn off the music? Here comes a policeman, get out of the aisle, sit on my lap!

The bus starts moving and we are sleeping our way up the highway for hours.

When we pull into the unloading point in Uman, the Ukrainian police, who look every bit like what you would expect Ukrainian police to look like, even down to the dogs, are at the bus doors checking our passports again. But we're about to leave their world, and when we see them again, they look to us like cartoons, bewildered.

Up the hill we go - hundreds dragging luggage up dirt paths. The locals comes out with carts and trolleys. Up a hill around the corner and the air is charged. It's a festival - loudspeakers, music, a crossroads of craziness, familiarish faces I never expected to find in this place.

We'll come back to Uman - but it's on to Mehzbehz for Shabbos. How can we get to Mehzbehz? Where can be drop our bags? A friend pops out of the crowd and points us to the place we're staying. A friend of a friend pops out of the crowd and asks if we're interested in going to Mehzbehz. Drop off, repack, out the door, on the mini-bus, on the road.

On the mini-bus, I see a friend I never thought to see. "We've been waiting here for hours to fill this bus," he tells me, "now I know that we were waiting for you!"


Three hundred years ago, Judaism was on the rocks. It had gone cold. Erudition was the coin of the realm, but the vast majority of the populace was simple, disenfranchised. What would God want with the service of a simple person like me?

Reb Yisrael Ben Eliezer, the Baal Shem Tov, came into this cold world like a flaming coal. He taught that every person has a way to connect to God that no other person has. He taught that the prayer of the person who swept the streets was as precious, maybe more precious, than the prayer of the scholar. He reopened the gates of prayer, of song, of stories, of joy, of dancing.

We're going to Mehzbehz, were the Baal Shem Tov lived and is buried.

The Ukraine looks like Vermont - farmland and farm stands, leaves turning. Big ugly metal communist era signs at the entrance to every town in Cyrillic, Cyrillic, Cyrillic. A Mercedes passes a horse drawn wagon. Cows and chickens roam the side of the road. There are no strip malls, no conspicuous capitalism.

We stop at a restaurant to buy some water and use the bathroom. Dollars do us no good here. The local currency is the Unpronounceable, trading at roughly 5 to a dollar. The bathroom is the smelliest of outhouses - a hole in a concrete floor. We wash our hands with the water we bought.

Before coming to the Ukraine, I got a debriefing about the water.
"We'll need to buy water."
"We can't drink the tap water?"
"No, we can't drink the tap water."
"I'll just bring a filter."
"A filter won't help. We'll buy water."
"Filter won't help? I have a good filter, takes care of all sort of stuff."
"A filter won't help you with this water."
"What's wrong with it?"
"It's radioactive."
"We'll buy water."

We're not very far from Chernobyl.


Just outside of Mehzbehz, we stop at a fish market - a full quarter kilometer of fish - dried, fresh, in the open, chasing flies, hanging, laid out, faces of natives from behind the fish, unblinking, in the shell, never had a shell, live, dead with mouth agape, fins, scales. A few fish find their purpose in honoring the holy Shabbos.

Mehzbehz is a tiny little town, a hamlet, a village.

Houses are small, roads are sometimes paved, dogs roam the streets, horses pull wagons. How out of place! A square, a two story building - Jerusalem stone? Jews falling out of all manner of car. A Russian flea market - hats and dolls and trinkets. A shul, a soup kitchen, a small place for guests to stay, the graveyard where the Baal Shem Tov is buried...

A woman makes her living here translating between Hebrew and Russian. She finds a place for the lot of us. We follow our new landlady down a dusty road and up another. Our accommodations are luxurious - covered in oriental rugs and antiques - and primitive - no running water. The well and outhouse are out back with the chickens, newborn kittens, and dog.

I go to the Mikvah and then to visit the grave site of the holy Baal Shem. Immediately I'm wrestling - who do I address my prayers to? To God, of course. But how do I acknowledge the presence of the Baal Shem Tov? I'm not used to their being two presences. These questions become a constant refrain over the course of these days. I pray to God that I not make mistakes in his honor.

The Baal Shem Tov is buried among a host of his students and descendents, including Reb Wolf Kitzes, Reb Baruch of Mehzbehz, The Degel Machanei Ephraim, and The Ohev Yisrael - Rav Avraham Yehoshua Heschel of Apt. I ask those buried here for permission to tell their holy stories...

Shabbos morning we walk out of the main square, down a road, and to the left, and another left, and right, and around and into the Shul where the Baal Shem Tov prayed.

Strong. Rich. An upwelling. A soaring.

I don't want to leave the place. I stay for a long time after davening, after most people have left, just walking around the place, warm, talking to God, praying, learning.

I leave slowly, wanting to savor it, wanting to let the presence of this place settle in my soul. I walk out while facing in, paying attention to the wood, the windows, the books, the beams, the light, and to the Mezuzah that testifies to the presence of God in this place...

The Deepest Laughter

I've seen it written that one who doesn't cry during Rosh Hashannah isn't really plugged in to what's going on - that every person is passing one-by-one in front of God, who sees into the deepest, most hidden places of their life, heart, and soul.

There's truth to this, but there's also another face.

If I really know that God is King, really know that he created and creates the world from nothing, what am I? God is the only necessary existence, I have no place to make demands, no rights to stand on. By rights, the world itself shouldn't exist - why would God bother to create?

I'm as nothing before him - really nothing.

But he does create the world, he does create me every second, he does provide me with every breath, he does shower me with uncountable blessings.

I and the world have no right to exist, but he creates us anyway! What reaction can I have but to laugh?

The Deepest Laughter.