The word ‘Fall’ has varied associations. To the world, it is a season. On the calendar, it is ‘fall back’ time. For Jews, it is the month after a slew of holidays. And in the Garden of Eden story, it is the cosmic ‘fall’. For me personally this year, it was a fall I took a few months ago. The Sabbath after the ninth of Av, I was on the way to Torah Study in the morning, when I tripped on a crack in the street. Before I knew it, I realized I had also cracked my right wrist, while trying to protect my head. It is now two and a half months since then. I am thank G-d recovering slowly but surely.
One of the lessons I got was how much we need both sides of our bodies, and in particular our right and left hands. I am somewhat ambidextrous, using my right hand to write, and my left to throw and pick up things- yes I am a southpaw. I have now been trying to teach my left hand to write- they say it is good for the brain. Oddly enough, writing the Hebrew alphabet goes much more smoothly than writing English. But I do need both hands to do what is most important to me these days- to type on my computer. Before today, I have been pecking away with my left hand fingers at an agonizing snail’s pace, but though still somewhat painful, I can now manage to type with both hands.
In Judaism, the right side takes precedence in many areas: Putting on the right shoe first, ritual handwashing on the right hand first, placing the Chanukah lights on the right side first, and putting a mezuzah on the right side of the door, putting money in a Tzedaka box with the right hand. When my right hand was incapacitated, I appreciated its Jewish value even more.
I did go through a mini grieving process. I found myself at times mentally, or even physically, pushing my right hand away, as if to say, ‘Who are you? I don’t know or even want you around. But at other times I would cradle it in my left hand, while whispering or singing songs of comfort and consolation. Then there is the eerie pre-fall experience when I woke up that Shabbat morning singing to myself over and over, the song from Psalm 137- ‘If I forget you O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget (its movement)!’
But enough of my personal condition; what is my ‘Torah takeaway’ from these months? Just as both hands, right and left, are vital parts of the same organism, so are apparent opposites in the world and in our lives, part of a more global perspective. Rebbe Nachman said something apparently counter intuitive: ‘Debates, that is differences of opinion, are what sustains creation!’ How can that be? Are we not taught the opposite- that machloket- arguments, can destroy the world? Of course, as we learn in Pirkei Avot, we must discriminate between an argument ‘for the sake of Heaven’ and an argument ‘not for the sake of heaven.’ But are arguments for the sake of heaven needed to sustain the world?
To understand this, remember that the Torah we just began reading again, begins with the letter ‘Beit’ which equals two, and not with the letter Aleph which is one. The Ten Commandments start with Aleph from the word ‘Anochi- I am. That is the singularity from which everything begins. The ‘everything’ is conveyed by the Beit of creation. Thus Rebbe Nachman’s point is that differentiation is necessary of all of existence, and so debates are inevitable. But ‘for the sake of Heaven’ caveat means that the differences are meant to be in service to the One- to a higher purpose.
Think about it. We are now in the 2nd Hebrew month, called, ‘Mar Cheshvan.’ Literally ‘Mar’ means bitter because in deep contrast to the 1st month, Tishrei, we have no holidays. Tishrei to many of us feels like a different reality- beyond the vagaries of fragmented time and space. All the festivals express some aspect of the Oneness: On Rosh Hashanah, we all stood before G-d, from the ‘heads of tribes to the wood choppers.’ Yom Kippur is called the ‘One day in the year’ that even Satan has no power to corrupt. Sukkot, we all come together in a simple booth and wave four different plants together. In fact, the Kabbalists tell us that these particular plants are unique in the sense that each are connected with unity and are therefore, in contrast to other plants, under the direct guidance of the Divine Presence. Then, on Simchat Torah, we dance around an ‘empty space’, reflecting infinity. So all of Tishrei is like the Aleph of Anochi.
But now we are back in the duality of Mar Cheshvan. Yes, it can be bitter to move away from the clarity of Oneness to the places of separation- separation of earth and heaven, separation of peoples, politics, and religions. For me, having to use only one hand for over two months has taught me that not only did everything take longer, but my over exerted left hand could not perform with its usual dexterity. Now that both my hands can cooperate with equal differentiation, I have more expectation and hope that different parts of humanity can learn this too.
On my last doctor’s visit, he showed me the x-ray of my wrist, explaining that he had to place nine screws and one plate in my arm. So, as in my southpaw reference, I now tell people that I have an entire baseball team in my hand. Mystical writings speak about worlds of Tohu- Chaos and worlds of TikunRepair. A key difference is the powerful lights of Tohu functioned independently and sought to occupy the entire space of Creation. In contrast, the more muted lights of Tikkun worked together. I compare this to a nine man baseball game where at first each player takes up the full spotlight, but the game can’t really begin till each player assumes his rightful position on the field. In this game of life, if all G-d’s creatures took their rightful place and supported the unique position of each other, even if there was a fall, we could lift each other up.
So many people came to my aid after my fall; I could not have survived without them and am so grateful to all. Each Hebrew month has a dominant letter. The letter for Mar Cheshvan is ‘Nun’ which is the first letter of the word Nofeil, meaning fall. If we could all help each other when we fall, then indeed- to make a Hebrew-English pun, we would be in a position of …’No Fail.’
One of the speakers at the Nov. 3 Symposium on Spirituality and the Environment mentioned an idea that the directive of ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’ also refers to the earth. If we are meant to treat our world with care and respect, how much more so, should we regard our fellow humans, created in the Divine Image, with awe and reverence for the G-dly spark within each reflection of ‘the One’ who sustains us all.