As I celebrate my 18th wedding anniversary one week before Rosh Hashanah, I am struck by what the High Holidays can teach us about the wonders of love and the gift of being known. When I stood under the chuppah and placed a ring upon my husband’s finger, I recited the biblical words, “Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm” (Song of Songs 8:6). I was inspired by the betrothal imagery of the tefillin straps looped around my fingers like a wedding ring. Each time I wrap tefillin and recite the verses from Hosea, “I will betroth you to Me… and you shall know the Lord,” I experience the love of God. The tefillin are the symbol of Divine intimacy, just as the wedding ring under the chuppah is the symbol of marital union. What ensures the seal of love is knowledge. Just as we hope to know God through prayer and mitzvot, and therefore experience Divine presence and love in our everyday lives, so too we pledge in marriage to know our partner.
At the core of a loving relationship is the feeling of being known, seen and accepted as we truly are. After eighteen years, my husband knows my failings, fears, limitations, and inadequacies, and he loves me anyway. That feeling of being fully known and being loved anyway is the greatest gift a partner can give. It is an anchor. It is home. It is peace.
That is the gift we are given as a Jewish people every year on the High Holidays. On the Day of Judgment, we tremble before a God who knows our innermost secrets. And yet, the Day of Judgment is also the Day of Remembrance – a remembrance of God’s merciful love for us. As the Divine ledgers are opened, we may fear the reckoning that will come as a result of our actions and misdeeds. Yet, there is also a deep comfort in the faith that we are truly known by God.
You know the mysteries of the universe, the deepest secrets of everyone alive. You probe our innermost depths; You examine our thoughts and feelings. Nothing escapes You; nothing is secret from You.
God knows us, and God loves us anyway. That is the whole essence of the Torah. God knows human limitation and the human propensity for failure, yet God loves us anyway and longs to be in relationship with us.
The great liberation of Yom Kippur is that God forgives us, even though God knows us. Even though we are not deserving. Even though we have not fulfilled our obligations. Even though we have sinned again and again in our words and in our actions. Even though our Book of Life, laid bare before the Judge of the Universe, is full of mistakes, missed opportunities, pettiness, selfishness, self-centeredness, laziness, and deceit. We are known in the fullness of our being, and God still loves us.
On the High Holidays, I do my best to engage in the hard work of teshuvah as personal stocktaking and repentance. But I also experience the season of teshuvah as a “return” home to the anchor, the peace, and the wholeness of Divine acceptance in which I am known, loved, and given endless opportunities for growth and change. That is also the blessing of my eighteen years of loving marriage. It is life-sustaining and life-affirming because I am known, and I am loved anyway.
During this season, we are each invited to model God’s mercy by giving one another the gift of forgiveness. When we seek to truly know one another, rather than merely judge, we can help provide the foundation for human flourishing under the gaze of loving acceptance. In all of our relationships this coming year, may we strive to deeply know others and to love them all the more.