A conversation with God before Yom Kippur
A writer sits at her desk, hands limp at the keyboard. After several minutes of silence, she leans back, closes her laptop and speaks aloud.
ME: God, I confess I’m reaching out to you because I’m having severe writer’s block over what I should write for Yom Kippur.
ME: It feels strange to talk to you like this. Outside of shul, I mean. We haven’t really done this in a long time. I’m not even sure you’re listening.
ME: Right. You’re probably busy with more important crises than writer’s block. I’ve been reading about the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar … the African famine … the hurricane damage … far-right parties in Europe … North Korea. You’ve got a lot on your plate. I don’t envy you. I think I’ll just update my journal.
GOD: [clearing throat] I’m sorry I’m late, Danielle.
ME: Holy shhh…!
GOD: This time of year is … [makes exasperated sound]. But I’m here now. In fact, I’m everywhere.
ME: Wow, I didn’t expect you to answer.
GOD: It has been a while, Danielle. You were much more expressive to me during your year of Kaddish.
ME: I’m sorry. I’ve been a little checked out. I guess I had more to say back then. It’s easier to pray when you have a purpose.
GOD: There is always a purpose to prayer.
ME: I get that in theory. But, you know, that was such a unique time, losing my Mom. Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur come every year. It’s hard to just switch it on. I’m having a hard time making the whole holiday drama feel new.
GOD: What is old you will make new, and what is new you will make holy…
ME: Are you giving me a commandment? An 11th? Wait. Didn’t Rav Kook say that?
GOD: Yes, but I whispered the idea to him. We work in partnership, Danielle. He was a smart one, that Kook. One of my best. Very good listener. So were Moses, Buddha, Muhammad, Einstein, Beethoven…. The list goes on.
ME: Well, if you want to implant genius ideas in me, I can be a good listener.
GOD: I’ve been trying.
ME: Oh. Do you think you could try a little louder?
GOD: I don’t grant wishes, Danielle.
ME: Not even if it’s good for the world? Like, maybe you could “disappear” Kim Jong Un the way Mexican drug traffickers do with journalists?
GOD: Those journalists did my work well. I was proud.
ME: Why would you reward people doing “your work” with death?
GOD: Why do you think so negatively about death? It’s all part of my plan. I haven’t told you what happens after this.
ME: After life?
GOD: My ways are a mystery.
ME: That’s right. God works in mysterious ways. I’ll bet you whispered that one, too.
GOD: Indeed. It got shortened and sloganeered over the years, but it was best expressed through the German author Novalis: “We dream of traveling through the universe — but is not the universe within ourselves? The depths of our spirit are unknown to us — the mysterious way leads inwards.”
ME: Again, if you want to whisper things like that to me, I’m game.
GOD: Danielle, everything you need is already inside you.
ME: Then why doesn’t it feel that way? Why do I always focus on what’s missing, what’s unrealized and undone in my life? I don’t mean to seem ungrateful. You’ve given me so many gifts and blessings. But, still. Life is a lot harder than I imagined it would be.
GOD: If it were easy, you wouldn’t strive. My world needs strivers.
ME: I want to do your will, God. But the problems of the world are so overwhelming. To be honest, a lot of the time I get bogged down with the problems of my own life. How do I know what to focus on? Do you want me to heal the world or heal myself?
GOD: You have a beautiful soul, Danielle.
ME: Thank you for the compliment. And, for my soul.
GOD: You’re welcome.
ME: I don’t want you to go away. This is kinda nice. I think I might need you.
GOD: Do you remember learning to ride a bike, Danielle? You didn’t ride on your own until your father let go. Sometimes I hide my face in order for you to grow.
ME: Wait! Before you go, I still need you to tell me what you want of me.
GOD: It’s in the Talmud, Danielle. Rahmana liba bayeh — I want your heart.
ME: But you already have it. I promise.
GOD: One thing I’ve never been able to figure out is why my children make so many promises they can’t keep. I even give you an out: Kol Nidre. Every year, all oaths are annulled.
ME: That doesn’t make any sense, though. Why wouldn’t you want me to keep this promise? How will we ever heal the world if every year you allow us to cancel our obligations?
GOD: Because there’s wisdom in annulling a promise.
ME: That doesn’t bode well for matrimony.
GOD: A promise, by definition, depends on certainty, and few things in this life are certain. I made it that way. I guarantee you life — but not an amount. Who shall live and who shall die is known only to me.
ME: And yet, you expect us to just go on — with courage, with purpose, in goodness — without knowing what’s in store for us?
GOD: Danielle, the human condition is one of uncertainty. If you can weather, with more peace of mind, the unknowns of your life — and your writing — you will live better. Life will unfold regardless of your needs or wishes. The spiritual task is how to bear the mystery, and how to help others bear it too.
ME: Bear the mystery. What does that mean? What does that look like? Should I give up writing and go help the Rohingya?
ME: God? Are you still there?
Danielle Berrin is a senior writer and columnist at the Jewish Journal.
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