On the 35th day of Omer, when we are asked to consider our ability to experience God’s presence within our emotions (one way of thinking of Malkhut she b’Hod), I visited my aunt, who now lives with her husband in Mizpe Ramon, a tiny settlement at the edge of the breathtaking Makhtesh Ramon. We spent a lot of time reminiscing about our extended family – the people I knew before our tiny 4-person branch of the family left Russia for the United States 26 years ago. She also spent a lot of time updating me on the lives of the new generations – my cousins and their children.
A lot of things have happened to the family that stayed in Russia in these 26 years that normally would to any family: loves, marriages, childbirths, illnesses, deaths. A lot of the joys and tragedies that make up a life of a family had passed me by as I was recreating, “re-birthing” myself in the radically different environment of my new country. A growing number of adults in this larger family who had known and loved me as a child is passing on – nearly everyone from my grandparents’ generation is no longer with us. Neither is my closest aunt.
My aunt in Mitzpe Ramon is one of the very few channels I have left into my childhood: the part of my life when everyone from those two generations was still alive, vibrant, and full of energy. When I think about that part of my life now, all I can think of is the love that flowed from all of them to me and all the other children in the family – love that was plentiful, freely given and unconditional.
This love was physical, with lots of hugging and kissing. My grandmother and her two sisters enveloped all of us with that love. They made no separation among us grandchildren: to them, all of us were theirs. It was like having three grandmothers on one side of the family alone. Their husbands – my three grandfathers on that side – did the same thing, albeit in a way that was more appropriate for the men of that country and that generation: with less effusiveness, perhaps, but with unwavering support that was just as assuredly ours as our grandmothers’ hugs and kisses. Their children – my aunts, uncles, and their spouses – acted in the same way: we were all their beloved kids.
I now understand the incredible blessing and power of that love. The people who bestowed it on us may no longer be here physically, but their love is just as present. Along with my parents’ love, it is the single most important force that forms the energetic foundation of my life. In life’s darkest moments, I can pull out my magic key and open the door that leads into the secret chamber where that love is stored. This love shields and protects me, and because it’s boundless, it is always there for me – the biggest, most important and most inexhaustible resource of my life.
I now know that not everyone in the world has had that blessing, and I now know that that love was a gift from God. I now know that the Shekhina was present in that abundant love.
My aunt and I also talked about conflicts that at different times permeated and even split the family. We talked about jealousies, feelings of rivalry, feelings of anger and resentment, and the separations that resulted from them. We talked about how in the midst of that abundant love, it was still possible to feel as if you were not loved enough. How even though all the children were everybody’s children, it was still possible to feel as though others were wanted more than you were.
I remember those feelings well too, and in the memory chamber of my heart I try to re-experience them, too, as a gift from God. I am certain, just as I’m certain that God is present everywhere, that in those feelings, the Shekhina was also present – just as She is present in my feelings of grief at all the missed opportunities, all the times I wasn’t there to give back the love that I’d been so generously given.
Why would Shekhina be present there, in those difficult emotions? For what purpose? Perhaps to show that an honest expression of feeling must still be honored, whether as a message, as a lesson, or as a path to redemption. After all, if we know how the human being in front of us feels, we can reach out and create more love where until a moment ago there may not have been any.
Perhaps the Shekhina is there, in those more difficult emotions, in order to teach us that, in the end, the negative conclusions that we draw from our “negative” feelings are just our own illusions. After all, love is still there, available to us in its purest, most unadulterated form. All we need to do is choose to notice it and choose to draw different conclusions. When She isn’t there to help us experience pure love and joy, She is there to teach us to find our path to it anyway.
The love of those generations continues. One of my younger cousins, who was with us at Mitzpe Ramon, has a Down syndrome. This young woman is the purest expression of love I’ve ever encountered. She has no fences around her heart, no walls to keep either her inner self away from others or others away from her inner self. She declared her love for me the moment she first met me two years ago. She continued throughout that visit to remind me of how much she loved me. And she wanted to know whether I loved her too.
Two years later, she is still that way. She hugs me, kisses me, holds my hand, and asks me to stay a little longer. She tells me she loves me, and she revels in my telling her that I love her too. She declares openly to the world that she loves and wants to be loved back.
The Shekhina is there, in that young woman’s love. When I am around her, I am reminded of how simple love really is. All it requires is for one human being to be able and willing to say to another with an open heart: “I love you. Do you love me too?” – and for another human being to answer in the affirmative. In that love, there is the presence of God. And that, to me, is the essence of Malkhut she b’Hod.