Years ago I was babysitting a little girl, barely three-years-old, who was like a niece to me. She spent a lot of time with me and we were very close so I was surprised when, one afternoon, I stuck my head around the corner of my living room to check on her and she was sitting on the couch sobbing.

"Leah!" I said, running to her. "What's wrong?"

"I don't knooooowwwww!" she wailed.

Frequently, when I have a particularly powerful encounter with God, I get extremely emotional. It can happen when a phrase of the siddur (prayer book) leaps out at me, or when I glimpse someone whose immersed in the God. Sometimes I just "spontaneously combust"!

It's an emotion that I've been experiencing now for more than two decades, and one that I've never really been able to describe. "My heart broke open this afternoon," I write in my journal, and then I unsuccessfully struggle to articulate and understand. It's so powerful that I require a complete withdrawal from everything and everyone. I've been ravished by God and I'm emotionally exhausted.

Tangible things inevitably occur - I lose my self-consciousness, everything in the world outside of the Divine leaves my thoughts, and frequently, I leave the moment with some change in my life, a freedom from something with which I've been struggling.

What I've never been able to grasp is the actual emotion. So several days ago, during one of the weeks of rabbinical study in Connecticut, I stayed in my room for an evening and morning trying to process another very emotional encounter with God. I wrote this in my journal: "Again, what I feel doesn't seem like pure joy, but it certainly isn't pain. Is it? Is an opening to the Divine merely about pure joy? Is it a mixture of emotion? What is God doing and do I really even need to understand?

The following night I shared my experience and confusion with my mishpacha - a group of fellow students with whom we're asked to regular meet and where, hopefully, we can be open and frank without fear of judgment. I asked for feedback on what others thought of this intense emotion.

Cecily mentioned her visit to a chapel where Bernini's sculpture of St Teresa of Avila lies, and how Bernini depicted Teresa's emotion, when she encountered God, through her facial expression. I've been to the chapel and love both Bernini and St Teresa. "Yes!" I thought. "Teresa's expression is blissful and pained and ecstatic and agonized all at one time.

Sara offered that perhaps I was trying to conceptualize an emotion that didn't fit into any of the "boxes" where I organized my thoughts and concepts. True. Deb added that Chazzan Jack had described a niggun as encapsulating all of our emotions in a simple melody. We can and do feel opposing emotions at any given moment. Powerful.

Then Jesse described talking to one of the retreat center's staff members. "A lot of people have difficulty processing what happens to them here," she said, "because they're encountering pure, Divine love."


Love is the very thing that we are entirely incapable of describing or processing on an intellectual level. When we love another person, when our heart opens to someone, we're flooded with a plethora of thoughts and emotions, both conscious and unconscious: "Is he as in love with me as I am with him? Have I done anything that has hurt this person I love so much? Have I done anything that has affected our love for good or bad? Wow, I LOVE this man. I feel deliriously joyful. He's so fun and he makes me laugh and...

Each and every time you lie in each other's arms or look into one another's eyes or have a conversation, there are dozens, maybe hundreds of emotions and thoughts that buzz through our hearts and minds.

Love is not simply pure joy - even while it's the greatest joy we experience.

As I drove to my room that night, I understood that the love I feel for my fiancé', Bobby, is the best analogy I have for the intense emotion I feel when I come face to face with God and my heart breaks open. This love is so intense it feels unbearable. I want to run away and be alone with my Beloved. God, are you responding to my longing? Will I still feel You this way in a few hours or days or weeks? Why can't I live in these moments of ecstasy forever? How long will this emotion last?

Years ago I asked my Sufi teacher, during a visit to Konya, Turkey, about how an emotion can feel so intensely joyful and fill me with such peace and yet seemed tinged with grief and longing. He smiled and simply said, "Ashk" (love). I didn't get it at the time and now I do. Love is this amazing, endless range of feelings and emotions that leads us to commitments and pushes us to become better people - and it happens each time we look deeply into our lover's heart and eyes.

May all of our hearts be broken open and may we embrace the mysterious passion offered by Divine Love.