A Very Narrow Bridge

The world is a very narrow bridge; the important thing is not to be afraid. ~Nachman of Breslov

Month: September, 2013

This is the Blessing

Close your eyes and think of your first love.

Yeah… I know.

We spend so much time on first love. We celebrate it. We mourn it. We claim it will define all our other loves.

How often do we talk about last loves? How will we know who our last love will be? Or possibly who our last love was?

I’ve been thinking about Moshe again. This week, at least on Monday and Thursday morning, we read וְזֹאת הַבְּרָכָה V’Zot Habracha, the last parsha in the Torah. It means “This is the Blessing” and it ends with Moshe’s death.

And it’s sad. And it’s also not sad at all.

It’s about love. Last love. But let’s start with first love first.

Who was Moshe’s first love? His mother, who hid him? His sister, who followed him as he floated in the Nile? Pharaoh’s Daughter, who drew him out of the water and raised him? Is first love really the love we learn at home? This is what they tell me. Though when you closed your eyes and thought of your first love, that wasn’t what you thought of, was it?

Probably you thought of a middle love.

Who were Moshe’s middle loves? Aharon and Miryam who were with him along the journey that defined his life? Pharaoh, the adversary who forced him to find his courage and power? Tzipporah, who saved his life in one of the strangest incidents (Exodus 4:24-26) in the Torah? Yitro, who offered help when he needed it most? Korach, who broke his heart? Already middle love is more interesting, I think. The middle is the interesting part, isn’t it? The hardest part, at any rate.

Middle loves hurt us and are hurt by us; they teach us and learn from us. We run from them; we regret losing them. We long for them; we hate them. Sometimes they are the kindest people who ever left us, and sometimes the most cruel people we ever allowed to stay with us. Any of these can be true in turn. All of these can be true at the same time. The middle is the hard part.

This is the blessing.

I don’t know what last love looks like. I don’t think we can know until the end. But there are hints. Last love starts out looking like first love for some of us. Sometimes it stays like that. More often, I hope, last love starts out looking like middle love. If we are lucky—and I hope to be this lucky someday—the middle love becomes a last love.

We read about Moshe’s last love at the end of the last parsha in the Torah. Moshe climbs Mount Nevo and God shows him the Promised Land. The Land he won’t be entering. And then He kisses him and buries him.

This is last Love. This is the Love who scares us, who forces us to become more than what we think we are. This is the Love who supports us, and with whom we fight. The Love who denies us our wishes and who also gives us so much. This is the Love whose attributes, comforting and maddening, we understand. This is the Love next to whom we stand and look at what we’ve accomplished together. This is the Love for whom there could never possibly be anyone else like us. This is the Love who, in the end, kisses us and buries us. The Love who has been with us all along. This is the Love who provides the Proof. Because it is the Proof that provides this Love.

Yom Kippur is almost here. The hard work is finished. The middle, for this year at least, is behind us. We are looking at a beginning. And we are searching for something–
and we are being searched for.

On Rosh Hashana and on Yom Kippur we are reminded in Unetaneh Tokef: [Our lives are] “like a broken shard, like dry grass, a withered flower, like a passing shadow and a vanishing cloud, like a breeze that blows away and dust that scatters, like a dream that flies away.”

Our Last Love is searching for us, and we are like a dream that flies away.

Prove it.

I am sitting at a bagel place with Benno and Nikki.

“What is the thread that connects us?” Benno wants to know. I think he already knows, but he wants us to start thinking.


No. Faith isn’t what we have.


No. Belief doesn’t cover it either.

Finally, a little embarrassed, I suggest that what I have is Proof.

Benno’s eyes light up. Nikki says “Yes!”

The three of us are sitting together in a bagel place (where else?) Three people from different traditions, different cultures, at three very different stages in life. All of us sitting together in the bagel place and agreeing that we have no faith. No belief. Just Proof.

Faith is predicated upon some outside factor, like the system. You can’t have faith without something separate. Even having faith in yourself seems to look at the part of you in which to have faith as something separate from the part of you where doubt, heartbreak, and hopelessness live.

Belief is all about the individual. Believing in something means you hold it to be true.

For me, Proof is something else. Proof needs both. Proof wants us, forces us, to see the connection between those things outside of us and within us. Proof wants us to know there’s no real difference between those things. Proof is Proof. And sometimes Proof scares the crap out of us.

We don’t want to be connected. We want to be ourselves. We want our beliefs. We want that outside factor to rely on.

A person can’t just go around talking about being the same thing as the table or the cocker spaniel down the road, or the head of garlic he’s wearing on a string around his neck. That’s just weird.

But Proof is also comforting. So comforting. Because Proof never goes away. We might not notice it. We shouldn’t always notice it (please see, for example, the guy in the kaftan with the head of garlic on a string around his neck). But Proof is there.

Proof is the melody of זִמְרָת יָהּ (Zimrat Ya), the Divine Song. Proof is there when we are תָּמִים (tamim) present with an open heart. Proof is what stays our hand, or our tongue, when we are tempted to destroy hope. Proof is what causes us to fall in love, and to stay in love when the rules make no sense. Proof is calling to us every time we sound the shofar during the month of Elul.

Proof is at the bagel place and on the hiking trail. Proof is in the difficult conversation and in the uncontrollable laughter.

The last Shabbat in Elul has passed. We read parshat Nitzavim-Vayeilech (Devarim 29:9 – 31:30). And we learned exactly where Proof is:  כִּי-קָרוֹב אֵלֶיךָ הַדָּבָר, מְאֹד:  בְּפִיךָ וּבִלְבָבְךָ, לַעֲשֹׂתוֹ.  “Because it is very near to you, this [Proof]. In your mouth and in your heart so that you should enact it.”

Proof is there, not for the noticing, but for the acting.