Coming Back to Life

According to the Talmud, the most mysterious part of life is life itself.

It’s easy to talk about things; sometimes even easier to speak about other people; and of course, the more sophisticated individuals spend their days speaking about their feelings and ideas…

But, what about life itself? Life eludes us even when we sense its profound importance.

What is that sensation of “feeling alive?” Why don’t we feel it more often?

What is it about those special people who seem more filled with life than others?

What is my personal mission in life? When do I most feel that I am fulfilling my purpose?

It is worth spending some time thinking about this since the word חיים “Life” will appear just about everywhere in our upcoming prayers from Rosh Hashana through Yom Kippur. We ask to be sealed in the ספר החיים the “Book of Life,” but what exactly is the “Life” we are asking for. It can’t simply mean to be biologically alive since we know not-so-nice people who live out the year, and really good, special people that unfortunately do not.

What is this Lifeforce that we should apparently be desiring so intensely?

The word for “Life” in Hebrew is חיים “Chayim,” popularized by pre-beverage toasts, and gold chain necklaces nestled in tufts of chest-hair worldwide.

What is unique about “Chayim” is that it is a double-word, like שתים “Shtayim,” which means the number “two,” or עינים “Einayim” and ידים “Yadayim,” which refer to pairs of “eyes” and “hands” respectively. Check for yourself: words that rhyme with “Shtayim” have a connotation of duality.

But “Life” is perhaps the strangest word to be double – Life seems to be a single, unified flow of experiences…

What are we to make of all this?

Think about the term, “a live wire.”

What gives it life? There is a voltage through the wire. The voltage is an electric differential between the positive and negative sides, created by the two holes in the wall socket or the “+” and “–” sides of a battery. When the differential goes to zero, the battery “goes dead,” and as a result, so does your cell phone. The differential and duality of charge is what gives it life.

What creates that Life-Voltage in us?

Inside of us is an infinitely deep well of potential. It is the place where we sense the person we are capable of becoming. When we stretch ourselves to do something for someone else, or take a risk and do something particularly challenging or idealistic, or are confronted with and pass a moral dilemma — the part of us that lights up is this.

Meet your soul.

By definition, you can’t fully actualize your soul. It is infinite. The more you actualize, the greater potential that you now have to actualize (e.g. the wiser you are, the more wisdom you can now attain).

And so we have in us “the Real” & “the Ideal” — the person we are right now and the person we’re striving to become.

Between the Real and the Ideal is the Voltage of Life that like electricity, courses through us.

The problem is that over the course of the year, we forget about our ideal selves. We forget about who we’re capable of becoming, and thus, the voltage drops to zero, and the Lifeforce, the zest, the glimmer in our eyes, and the hop in our step sadly disappears.

This is the time of year in which just out of habit and exhaustion, our batteries are blinking, begging us to recharge them.

The way to recharge them is by recognizing that they need recharging. Desiring to go back to that idealism — that awareness of what life can be — is the very thing that taps the infinite wellspring inside us. Our soul was there all along. We just forgot about it. As we head towards the “Day of Remembrance” of Rosh Hashana, we should remember who we are and the kind of person we can be, and the Almighty should bless us with a reinvigorated flow of electric חיים to fuel another year of joyful growth.

About the Author
Rabbi Jack Cohen is the Director of Education of the Jewish Enrichment Center in West Village of New York City, working to create interactive educational programs that grant access to Torah that is deep and relevant to 20-somethings who are thirsty for it. Rabbi Jack served as a campus rabbi for Meor at the University of Pennsylvania and an Israel programs educator before that. He is currently coauthoring a book on the subject of individuality and self-esteem through the eyes of the Sages, called "Born to Be." He received his Rabbinic ordination in Jerusalem after his BA from Penn in Physics and Philosophy, and earned his Masters in Education at Harvard last year.
Related Topics
Related Posts