There are the spiritual quandaries that have haunted human imagination for millennia: Why are we here? What happens when we die? These matters remain hidden from our purview.
Hence my fascination with this parsha’s comment (29:28), “The hidden things are God’s concern; the revealed matters are for us.” Human beings are great detectives, but in matters of science, the more we know, the more we know how much we do not know; for the existential mysteries of life, there aren’t even any obvious clues to follow. These are the hidden matters that are known to God alone.
But we cannot help but wonder about them, and toward that end, we get the High Holy Days, the annual opportunity to contemplate these hidden things, of which I offer three.
The first two are life and death. It is not given to us to know why either occurs. More awesome than how the universe came into being is the remarkable fact that it did. Within those unfathomable eons of time and space, moreover, we have somehow been graced with a tiny window of something called human life, and within that mystery, there is that infinitesimally breathtaking thing we know instinctively as our own individual selves.
The will to life is everywhere, from the grass that sprouts through cracks in the sidewalk to the science-fiction tales of potions that offer eternal life. Rosh Hashana celebrates this mystery of life. It is the “birthday” of the world, we say, and even more, the birthday of humanity.
On Yom Kippur, by contrast, we contemplate death, for on that day, we neither eat nor drink, as if we were already dead. Our growing physical feebleness throughout the day reminds us that youth is just a preamble to old age, that sickness will inevitably drain our energy, and that suffering is frightening and real. At Yizkor we remember our dead, and prepare ourselves for our own end, which may not come for years, we pray, but will come someday — that is certain.
The last and greatest of the hidden things is love. The haftara of Shabbat Shuva, the Sabbath that separates Rosh Hashana from Yom Kippur, celebrates the mystery of love — God’s love for us and our love for each other and even the love we must reserve for ourselves, for we are made in God’s image. More than the inexplicable actuality of life and the inescapable reality of death, I marvel at the unpredictable acts of love that fill each day.
I will spend these Days of Awe in my own awe at what I will never understand: the why of life and death, and the saving grace of love. I will vow to love more and wiser and better, especially the people I love anyway and to show them I love them. Rabbi Akiba used to say, “Happy are you, because God loves you; happier still are you, because God lets you know it.” Like God, I can show people that I love them.
Love is a hidden thing that I will never understand. But showing love is a revealed matter that is in my power — a power I dare not squander.