Schechinah & Pointe du Hoc

I’ve been thinking about Rabbi Nachman lately, and I’m sure you have been, too! (No? *gasp!*)

Rabbi Nachman was an an 18th century Chassidic Jew, whose great-grandfather was the Baal Shem Tov, the founder of Chassidism. The Rabbi’s writings are about faith (surprise!) and one of his stories is The Lost Princess — a tale that isn’t so much about a princess as it is about finding the schechinah — the divine spark that dwells within each of us.

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Schechinah, which can be translated as ‘dwelling’ from Hebrew, is a theological concept concerning the presence of the divine on Earth. Some see the schechinah as God’s feminine manifestation, others as God’s presence on the dwelling seat between the cherubim. Many see it as the divine spark — that small fragment of God that lives inside each of us.

Remember the last time you felt you were in the presence of greatness? Standing in front of a work of art, hearing a piece of music, listening to a sermon, watching an athlete, reading a text. These things that move and inspire us are the results of that divine spark — the embers of that internal fire that still glow and give light when they are out in the world.

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Mister Whiskers overabundance of schechinah had devastating consequences…

Or maybe you can recall a time when the divine spark was manifested in you; a moment when you were aligned with your calling, exercising the gifts you’ve been given to the best of your abilities? Let me give you an example of what I mean, in case you’re feeling like I’ve floated off to a fifth dimension with this:

Years ago, I ran an afterschool program for kids called Historically Speaking.  In one of the sessions, I used Ronald Reagan’s 40th anniversary speech to the D-Day veterans at Pointe du Hoc as the jumping off point for a lecture on the Normandy invasion.

I talked the kids through the experience of those young soldiers, packed together in the hold as the ship pushed towards the beach: how the soldiers waded into the frigid waves, while the rip and smoke of bullets filled the air. I talked about how frightened those young soldiers must have been, how every sight and smell and sound conveyed the danger they were in, how young they were, and how very, very far from home …

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And then I told the kids that those men – those survivors – were the audience for President Reagan’s speech, there at Pointe du Hoc.

They were old men now, gray and bent, carrying reminders of that time in their minds and in their bodies. They’d made the journey to France to commemorate the courage they’d all shared, the odds they’d all beaten, and the youth they’d all sacrificed.

And at Pointe du Hoc, President Reagan had a calling: to convey an entire world’s gratitude. To remember.

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As I spoke, with the eyes of twenty-odd kids glued to my face, everything else fell away. All the noise from outside our classroom, all the distractions, everything that was going on in the playground and parking lot and hallway…it all fell silent.

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The student teacher who’d been in the back of the room came to me afterwards.  “I’ve never seen anything like that,” she said, pointing to the goosebumps on her arm.  “I don’t even understand what just happened here. It was like they were in a trance.”

I couldn’t explain it, either.  But what I did know was that in those forty minutes, with those kids, teaching that material, relaying a story of courage and conviction and appreciation, I was exactly where I was supposed to be, doing exactly what I was meant to be doing.  The divine spark was lit up.

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This is what I looked like.  Well, minus the toga. And the topknot. And the green waves. And the random light pattern emanating from my skin. Other than that, exactly like this.

On the other hand, right now I’m in the process of looking for a literary agent. As I described it to a friend recently, this feels like spending years trying to give birth, then handing the beloved newborn over to a stranger to be drop-kicked across the yard.

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Some days, it seems clear that the divine spark has been snuffed out. 

Life is often like that. We feel judged and found wanting, stuck on land when we really want to fly.

But some days — and these are the best days — we feel that flame of schechinah lit within us.

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Rabbi Nachman’s princess is found because the chamberlain who seeks her demonstrates an intense yearning and willingness to sacrifice in order to reunite with her. Finding our own schechinah requires the same of us.

And at the root of that intense yearning and willingness to sacrifice, there has to be a core belief: that we are here for a reason, and that the reason is fully within our reach.

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President Reagan said these words at Pointe du Hoc:

Forty summers have passed since the battle that you fought here. You were young the day you took these cliffs; some of you were hardly more than boys, with the deepest joys of life before you. Yet, you risked everything here. Why? Why did you do it? What impelled you to put aside the instinct for self-preservation and risk your lives to take these cliffs? What inspired all the men of the armies that met here?

We look at you, and somehow we know the answer. It was faith and belief; it was loyalty and love.

Those same things are what drive us to find our schechinah.

Have faith that you were created for a reason. Believe in yourself. Trust in the loyalty and love of your God, however you conceive of him/her/it. Share this faith and belief and loyalty and love with the people in your life who deserve it.

Yearn for your schechinah, and be willing to sacrifice in order to find her.

And when you do, watch the world light up.

**

To listen to President Reagan’s speech to the Rangers at Pointe du Hoc, click here: Ronald Reagan, Pointe du Hoc

 

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