The Isolation of Ayin
Despite all these jokes, kisses and embraces, there was still a silence within me that left me suffering and isolated in the heart of the crowd. – Orhan Pamuk
‘The pre-eminence of man over beast is “Ayin,” non-existent.’ (From the Yom Kippur Vidui) The Ba’al HaTanya read “Ayin,” not as “non-existent,” but as, “the ability to say, ‘No!'” Only a human being is able to control his natural instincts and say “No, I will not.”
I would like to suggest an additional reading: Only human beings have our sense of isolation in a crowd. I observe people praying in a synagogue, one of hundreds reciting the same words and singing the same tunes, but they stand alone, isolated in their thoughts, wrapped up in their own worlds. I also observe people praying, one of many chanting the same words, standing alone…with God. They have the ability to create a private space with God, even in the midst of a large crowd. They look at the prayers as a husband and wife can look at each other with total privacy and intimacy even when standing in a packed subway car.
We have been granted the gift of “Ayin,” the ability to feel isolated and alone. Do we experience Ayin as does Pamuk, as suffering and isolation, or, are we able to experience Ayin as did the Kohen Gadol in the Holy of Holies, “Alone with God?”
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