We are taught that although there were Seven Days of Genesis, still all of Creation is constantly being re-created. If at any moment, chas v’sholom [Heaven forfend], Hashem should so much as cease affirmatively desiring His ongoing Divine regeneration of the whole universe, all of it would immediately revert to tohu u’vohu — the primordial state of total entropy. All of it, all of us, and any thought, memory or mark of us, would simply vanish; the best metaphor is that the plug would be pulled on an entirely electric Universe. And yet in His ongoing kindness Hashem does will our ongoing existence and that of the world around it, because it matters to Him; because this world has purpose; because He loves it and he loves us. So for these reasons, which amount to no tangible benefit to Him (“benefit” as typically understood being, to the Omnipresent, axiomatically impossible), Hashem goes through the “trouble” of powering all existence, from the Leviathan to the tiniest mote, from the hidden saints to the most wretched vermin, from the crashing waves to the smallest, stillest voice, continually into being.
And we can barely sustain kavonah [concentration] for the first three brochos [benedictions] of Shemona Esrei [our daily prayers]!
But it is only human nature to forget gratitude and enthusiasm, isn’t it? Most of us are not able to imitate Hashem and constantly burn with spiritual energy. In the Tefillah Zakah [the prayer of forgiveness] we will all be saying in about a month, we confess: “My strength was insufficient to stand up [to the Evil Inclination]; the burden of earning a livelihood to support my household, and the weight of Time and its vicissitudes have befouled me…” Who thought when he began the journey toward religious observance that factors as mundane as punching the clock would blow a fuse on our zeal to go and to grow as new Jews? Yet who among us, who has felt the press of that weight extended over time for years and decades now since first turning that corner, doubts that these seeming trivialities can ground a potentially soaring spirit down low, and hard? As we get older and this pressure only increases, we begin to appreciate the magnitude of achievement of the spiritual giants of our people who lit of up the world of the spirit even as their own material existences flickered?
Still, shouldn’t “balei teshuva” be different? Shouldn’t we have something, somewhere, that we can draw upon to uncover that burning Jewish spark that fired our motors and got us on this road in the first place? Where can I go, then, to plug in, for a fresh infusion of energizing electrons from the spiritual grid?
The answer came for me this week. I followed my nose.
The time had come to freshen up my supply of tzitzis, and I bought three new pairs of round-neck cotton ones — two “regular,” and one with the heavy strings to wear “out” on Shabbos. I dutifully, which is to say rather thoughtlessly, removed the labels, and placed two of them in my drawer. Then I opened up one of the new ones and prepared to say the brocho which those of who wear a tallis godol usually do not say; but here I was putting on a new pair of tzitzis in the middle of the day. And then it hit me.
The smell of a new set of tzitzis, which for some reason I had not remembered though I had bought and buried scores of sets of them over the last 22 years, hit me right in the face. It was the smell of that moment when I crossed the line to becoming a Torah observant Jew. For a yarmulke is almost meaningless, or was for me — I used to wear them when I went to shul, and wearing one all day, though qualitatively different, was not a shock. But putting on tzitzis — now that was different. That was something that, simply, only orthodox Jewish men did. And once I put these on, I would be one. Forever — this I knew. It was frightening. Electric.
And the smell now, 22 years later, was the same. And I put them on again, not with a thumping heart and a cold, sweaty brow, no; but at least with a vivid and visceral recollection — a personal besomim whiff — of that moment, when I crossed that line, made the commitment, acknowledged the truth, and began creating my world and participating consciously in the spiritual sustenance of the Universe as a whole. It was the electrons that jumped off that cotton cloth, via the simple expedient of static charges, that plugged me in then to the direct current of Creation. And if in light of the burdens of worldly obligation and the taut pull of Time I have not spent the last two days in a spiritually electrified state, I think now at least I remember where the outlet is.
With God’s ongoing help, and with the reminder of the fringes I carry around like a battery pack, I hope I can increase the voltage over the coming weeks of introspection, and that I can do my part to break free of it all and that I can ask for God’s continuing generation of all Creation, and of blessing for us and all of Israel, as we approach the Birthday of Creation. I know I need a jump start, and I know I’m not alone.
Originally Published Aug 22, 2007