G-d is not a distant white-bearded old man in the clouds who listens to our prayers before deciding how to run the world, explained Rabbi David Aaron. Rather G-d is the Soul of our souls – our Shared Higher SELF. Rabbi Soloveitchik, in his classic Lonely Man of Faith, refers to G-d as the GREAT SELF. Although we each have individual consciousness and decision, all of our powers ultimately flow from G-d --our Greater SELF. For instance, on a conscious level, we control our thoughts by constructing our ideas and interpreting our surroundings. But we do not control the thought process itself. We are unable to start and stop thinking because G-d, not our minds, is the source of our power to think. With this model of G-d’s involvement in our lives, G-d becomes manifest in us when we are able to sidestep our ego and become a vehicle for the will and powers of G-d—our Shared Greater SELF. We experience these special moments when we perform actions in which we feel deeply invested yet mysteriously uninvolved in an actively mental sense. Such was our experience on September 30th as we joined hands for Simchat Torah.
For Simchat Torah in the Old City, the Orayta guys all came together after a week and a half of vacation. Of course it was special just to be together once again, but the occasion carried far more meaning. The time — the celebration of our Torah; the place — the spiritual core of the world since prehistoric time. The students knew it would be an unforgettable Chag.
As we left the Beit Midrash to begin the festive dancing, we could feel the Old City vibrating with spiritual energy. And suddenly the dancing began. We were all singing as one voice and dancing in a circle with our arms linked. We felt part of some greater celebration that far transcended our personal excitement. Individual awareness disappeared, giving way to a collective awareness. Without any mindful coordination, we were all instinctively stepping in line with one another. As one song would end, the whole would transition into another. Most striking was that this transition occurred seamlessly without a designated leader. There seemed to be no decisive moment at all but only an intuitive stream of unity.
Moreover, this innate identification with the celebration captured more than just the members of Orayta. As we danced through the cobblestone streets of the Old City, enthusiastic tourists were drawn into the festivity as well. These tourists, unable to control their glowing smiles, were traveling on Yom Tov and were not religiously observant Jews. Yet they connected naturally and genuinely with our religious celebration. That day, we profoundly experienced the truth that G-d is indeed our One shared Self. Our oneness with Him and with these strangers overwhelmed our surface differences.
At the heart of our dancing, both literally and figuratively, was the Torah. As we let go of our personal peculiarities, we allowed G-d to pour through us. Not only did we directly live His will, but we also expressed His presence proudly and passionately as we soared through the Jewish Quarter.
Sam Fisher grew up in Newton, Massachusetts. He attended Maimonides School from kindergarten through twelfth-grade and, after his year in Orayta, will attend Harvard College. What he likes most about Orayta is the encouraging yet open-minded and non-judgmental atmosphere created by his peers and the Rebbeim.