It’s so extraordinary that the tradition recognizes the human propensity for embarrassment. The rabbis knew that we would need God’s help not to be ashamed, putting the line “v’lo nevosh” into our prayers TWICE each morning. First, it appears in the paragraph before the Shma.
V’ha’eir eineinu b’toratecha, v’dabek libeinu b’mitzvotecha, v‘lo nevosh l’olam va’ed.
Lighten our eyes with your Torah, GLUE our hearts to your commandments, and let us never be ashamed.
The tradition predicts that we may get stuck in our desire to be close to Torah, because we’ll be ASHAMED. Ashamed of what? Looking foolish? Seeming too righteous? Showing that we care? There is no explanation given, and yet each of us could find our own reasons for potential embarrassment. Each of us approaches Torah with our own blocks, and we ask God to help us leave behind whatever stops us from living in the “light” of Torah.
The second time these words appear is in the center of the Amidah, in the blessing for Tzaddikim, when we pray for the righteous, and for the Gerei Hatzedek, righteous converts. Sim chelkeinu imahem, we ask, v’lo nevosh ki vecha batachnu. Place our portion among them, we pray, and we will not be ashamed for we trust in You. Amazingly, the tradition knows that there is a chance we might shrink from our responsibilities, that we might be embarrassed to do what we know we are meant to do. And the prayerbook gets us to ask God for help. God, help us not to be ashamed. Help us to trust in You so we can live among the righteous.
It’s almost as if the Siddur, the prayerbook, is telling us what Marianne Williamson’s oft-quoted lines have been telling us.
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone and as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.– Marianne Williamson
Taken out of the Siddur, the concept is an important one for all of us to embrace. We have to show up for our lives, to be the people God wants us to be, without embarrassment or shame. “Who are we NOT to be?” V’lo nevosh l’olam va’ed.
So I’m trying it. I’ve always wanted to be a writer. And rocket scientist that I am, I have finally recognized that if I want to be a “writer,” then I actually have to, um, write. At times, it might feel embarrassing or imperfect or, for that matter, not particularly remarkable, but that has to be okay. It’s just one blog post at a time.
I once bought my dad an empty sefer (a religious book, with a crimson binding and painted edges), entitled “chiddushim,” new ideas. It was a journal for learning religious teachings, meant to contain the writer’s innovative ideas on Torah or Talmudic passages. Of course, my dad, one of the most humble men I know, never wrote in it, thinking it would be “yuhara“–arrogance– to consider his own musings “chiddushim.” But now that I think about it, it was a pretty silly gift. There’s no such thing as a “chiddush,” as all the ideas in the world are taken and woven from the ideas of others. As we read last week in the book of Ecclesiastes, “ein chadash tachat hashamesh:” there is nothing new under the sun. So if we are going to accomplish anything, we can’t begin with the idea that it must be perfect, or NEW, or completely innovative, because we will never achieve anything.
Breishit Bara Elohim… We usually read this as “in the beginning, God created.” But Rav Dov Ber Pinson explains that for the kabbalists, Breishit is one of God’s names. Read this way, these three words suggest that in the beginning Breishit– the Infinite Presence of God– so unfathomable, whom we could never ever possibly even relate to– created a gift for humans, Elohim–a more manageable, imminent presence of God– a divine presence that human beings could strive to reach. If we want to create anything in our lives, we can’t start with the unreachable, but we must begin with something attainable, something that we might at least feel we can try to reach.
So hineni, he’aniyah mima’as. I’m starting with something attainable: a blog post. Welcome to Shameless Judaism: Adventures in Spiritual Refinement. V’lo nevosh l’olam va’ed. See you next week.