In Israel, Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah are both celebrated on the same day.
Our mystics teach that this day is the spiritual pinnacle of our entire year.
Not only is this day the culmination of the entire High Holiday period, and all the inner work we have invested during this time.
And not only does it complete a lengthy journey of growth and transformation that we have been traveling since the previous year began.
It is the day, we are taught, when we experience the greatest possible intimacy with the Divine Mystery: Complete Union.
I was wondering, as we entered this auspicious day here in Israel, how this quality of the day might manifest for me this year.
In previous years, being called up to bless the Torah on this day has been a powerful moment of inspiration and connection that nourished me for months and years afterward.
But of course this year was to be quite different.
Hearing the first siren around 8 am, I doubted my own ears.
Then I heard a loud and unmistakable boom.
A little later, there was a lengthy lull in the sirens and booms.
Perhaps it’s all over, we naively thought, remembering the short burst of missiles we experienced two years ago.
Perhaps that’s the end of it?
We walked to synagogue.
Soon after we arrived, the sirens and booms recommenced.
We spent the next few hours alternating between huddling in a bomb shelter, and continuing with our quite surreal prayer services right next to the shelter.
Everyone was scared – kids, adults, everyone.
Some were sobbing or having panic attacks of various degrees of severity.
My youngest son held me close and told me, almost constantly, that he was scared.
When we were in the shelter, looking him in the eyes and reassuring him, it became clear to me: This was how I was experiencing union with the Divine Mystery, this Simchat Torah.
The kind of hugging where you’re holding on for dear life.
So I didn’t get called up to bless the Torah this year.
But I did get to hold my child, look him in the eye and tell him everything was ok.
I give thanks for that.
May such days soon be behind us, and may those words I told him soon be deeply true.