How to Make Your World a Garden

Decide that it will be one. That you’ll be one with the garden, in the garden. By performing mitzvot. In this garden, you will see miracles. You will relinquish ego, curiously explore, and know boundaries. 

Creation happens in real time. We are regenerative energy cased in bodies in this lowly world. Our existence as we know it on a day-to-day level is that of materiality and physicality. For example, we tend to ourselves by brushing teeth, taking showers, moisturizing, drinking coffee, making breakfast, going to work, earning money, and so on. This is life on earth. 

Each morning, we say the modeh ani and thank G-d for returning our souls to our bodies. The day is initiated with gratitude and the acknowledgement of the soul. On Shabbos we rest. During shmita (“release,” this year!), we don’t plant. Yom Kippur is the Sabbath of Sabbaths. 

Space is allowed between the body and the soul; the animal and the godly.

As any human knows, our animal souls have a way of taking over. We become distracted, obsessed with matters like politics or gossip. Eating junk food, prioritizing pleasure over wellbeing. 

It’s not to say that we are bad or that we should dwell on our shortcomings or wrongdoings. Rather, it’s to acknowledge our propensity to turn our attention to unholy things when we wish for the circumstances of our lives to be different. 

On Yom Kippur, we remember the sin of the Golden Calf, when Moses wasn’t exactly on time to bring down the tablets from Mount Sinai: The children of Israel became anxious and turned to an idol. G-d eventually forgave this heinous sin. He taught that we can repent through atonement and prayer. 

Yom Kippur, often confused as a sorrowful day, is quite the opposite. The miracle of all our lives is that we can be forgiven: by G-d, by our fellow man, and by ourselves. 

Yom Kippur is the cosmic occasion during which we are at one with G-d. Close as we will be all year as we transcend our physical bodies, earthly needs, and ascend through prayer as we tap into the upward flowing energy of Tishrei. 

Tishrei is the month of Libra, represented by scales, as G-d weighs our deeds. We too are invited to weigh our past decisions and future convictions; to judiciously and intentionally commence a new year and a new self.

This is how you make your world a garden: by deciding it will be one. Ascend and transcend through the divine stages of the High Holidays (particularly during Yom Kippur, when the “Yechida” level of the soul is revealed to us), opt to transform what may be scorched land littered with twigs into a land that can bloom for vibrant life is our essence. 

Lamed, the letter of Tishrei, rises above the other letters in the alphabet. We rise above our past self, to our higher self. Forget the indulgences, the pain, all the distractions that made our personal Egypt. (After all, we only became Jews after we left Egypt…) Pray and do the work of cultivating a garden. Labor at the task of beirurim.

Recently I came across the following entry I wrote last year: 

Petchitor fumes humidify Autumn on Kol Nidreh as young Minneapolis Jews gather, masked. Sholom and Mushky’s backyard is a makeshift outdoor sanctuary, where plastic chairs are lined up, men and women are separated by plants, and congregants are in jackets. Kol Nidreh is the beginning of Yom Kippur, the Jewish day of atonement, when we fast and refrain from wearing leather. 

What is poignant about this to me in retrospect, is how, in the middle of a pandemic, Jews came together to rise above their past selves. Services took place outside, everyone wore masks, and Jews did what we have done for the entirety of our existence. 

The labor of our lives can seem so daunting. That is, until we realize that we are already doing the work. 

Yesterday I received a letter from my friend and sister Levana, who wrote to me “In Messillat Yesharim, R. Chaim Luzolto explains in the intro that nothing in this book is new – he is only reminding us of what we already know. That learning the book once does nothing – you have to thoroughly review it…” This can be likened to the 10th step of AA, “continuing to take a personal inventory,” being constantly vigilant.

On Yom Kippur, we reach the highest level of ourselves. Remember however that that highest level of self is always there, and knows exactly how to make the world a garden. With kavanah, love and a tender touch.

Human, rise up, rise up

You have strength within you

You have wings of spirit

Wings of powerful eagles

Do not deny them

Lest they deny you

Seek them out

And you will find them without delay

(lit. they will be found by you . . . )

-Rav Avraham Israel Kook

“From the straits I called God; God answered me with a vast expanse.” Tehillim Chapter 118

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