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Unscrolled Vayeilech: Open, Closed, Open

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“Open closed open,” wrote the poet Yehuda Amichai. “That’s all we are.”

The post Unscrolled Vayeilech: Open, Closed, Open appeared first on Jewish Journal.

“Open closed open,” wrote the poet Yehuda Amichai. “That’s all we are.”

Before we are born, everything is open

in the universe without us. For as long as we live, everything is closed

within us. And when we die, everything is open again.

Open closed open.

Like the beating of a heart.

Like the rising and falling of the chest as we breathe.

Like the tide coming and going.

Like the universe expanding out of a single point until one day – it collapses back.

Everything is like this.

Just as physicists discovered that what appears to us as matter (steady, firm, and unchanging) is actually a wave (constantly moving, rising and falling), so too is the act of being in this world truly an act of flickering in and out of it with every new moment.

“I am now one hundred and twenty years old, I can no longer be going and coming,” says Moses. (Deuteronomy 31:2). The phrase “going and coming” is an interesting one. It is as if he is stating that he can no longer flicker in and out of life, in and out of his awareness of God, in and out of sync with the people he is leading. It is time for all of that to end.

Open. Closed. Open.

But this is the closing of but one cycle out of many many—one gear in the vast clockwork of the cosmos. The story is not truly ending. Nor can we say it is truly beginning.

“The LORD said to Moses: You are soon to lie with your fathers. This people will thereupon go astray after the alien gods in their midst, in the land that they are about to enter; they will forsake Me and break My covenant that I made with them.” (Ibid 31:16)

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Reading this in our weekly Torah study, my father protested. Why the pessimism? Why tell them that they will fail? Why expect the worst? Moreover, would you ever say this to your child?

I answered that I would say this to my child, though differently worded.

I would say, you will make mistakes. You will make wrong turns. You will get very far from yourself. You will get very far from where you want to be. You will get so far that you almost don’t know how to find your way back.

But you will find your way back.

You will make mistakes. You will make wrong turns. You will get very far from yourself. You will get very far from where you want to be. You will get so far that you almost don’t know how to find your way back. But you will find your way back.

In other words, you will be open, closed, open.

This is the message of Deuteronomy: You will stray, but the path back will always be there for you. Moreover, straying and returning are both parts of your destiny. You can no more eschew one than you could build a world of up without down or a world of shade without sun.

This is also the message of Rosh Hashannah and Yom Kippur. To repent – to do teshuvah – is to return. It is to once again expand into openness from a place of closedness, just as Pesach teaches us to enter into broadness from a place of narrowness (Mitzrayim, Egypt, having the same letters as Meitzarim, the narrow places).

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Thus, our Jewish year is a cycle of open, closed, open. A snake shedding its skin. A wave cresting and falling. A tree passing through seasons of growth and dormancy.

As Chaim Nachman Bialik wrote about the Jewish people’s cyclical experiences of exile and redemption, “when a people leaves and re-enters, leaves and re-enters, this reveals its inner strength. Leaving means that the hour of expansion has come, while return shows the trait of contraction.”

Open, closed, open.

That is all we are.


Matthew Schultz is the author of the essay collection “What Came Before” (2020). He is a rabbinical student at Hebrew College in Newton, Massachusetts.

The post Unscrolled Vayeilech: Open, Closed, Open appeared first on Jewish Journal.

Source: Jewish Journal https://jewishjournal.com/judaism/340484/unscrolled-vayeilech-open-closed-open/

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