Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Oh Hashem, Where Aren’t You?

Using only our physical senses, the presence of Hashem can be painfully elusive. The world can sometimes seem void of a caring, compassionate personal God. In this world filled with pain and brokenness, one could even ask the question, “Where is Hashem?”

Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the author of the Chassidic work Tanya explains that no place is void of Hashem. The passage in the Torah, “Ain od milvado” should not be translated as, “There are no other Gods,” but rather, “There is nothing other than God” (Sha’ar HaYichud v’HaEmuna).

He teaches that the existence of the world is a greater miracle than the splitting of the Red Sea. The splitting of the sea requires a force to oppose the force of nature; but Hashem is the cause behind all nature, and is constantly willing all of life into existence. If Hashem was not involved in this constant mode of creation, then the world would return to its pre-creation state, i.e., absolute nothingness. Even an inanimate object such as a rock has a life force that Hashem is creating anew every moment.

From this perspective, the question is not, Hashem, where are you, but rather, Hashem where aren’t you? The answer is that Hashem is intimately involved with every aspect of existence in every moment. Every person and every thing that we see is constantly being created by a loving God. Our work is to open our hearts to this reality that eludes our physical sight. The more we integrate this perception into our thoughts and actions, the closer we can feel to Hashem and Hashem’s creation.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Celebrating The Two Torahs

As I read through the passages that detail the giving of the Torah at Mt Sinai, I find myself experiencing Hashem’s revelation as an ominous, commanding voice, insisting on obedience.

This image may not capture the entire picture of the giving of the Torah.

Our sages teach that the tablets that Moshe received were six handbreadths wide by six handbreadths long by three handbreadths deep. At the giving of the Torah, Hashem held on to two handbreadths, Moshe held on to two handbreadths, and there were two left in the middle.

The Maharal of Prague asks why there needed to be two handbreadths in the middle; why couldn’t there be two in Moshe’s hand and two in Hashem’s hand? He answers that if that were the case, it would have implied that the Torah has two components: what Hashem decreed, and what Moshe received. But this does not express the most essential element of the Torah: the two handbreadths in the middle represent the place of relationship.

These two handbreadths represent the give and take. The Torah is not only a fixed document where Hashem acts as the omnipotent commander, but rather the Torah represents an unfolding relationship that expresses a living dialogue. This Torah is called the Oral Torah, and is as essential as the fixed letters on the tablets.

As we receive the Torah anew on Shavuot, we need to not only experience the dramatic revelation of the Written Torah, but we must also seek out the active relationship between Hashem and the Jewish people, which thrives in our study halls and in our silent contemplation.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Jerusalem: A Taste of What’s to Come

Every year when Jerusalem Day starts to approach, I think back on my first Jerusalem Day experience. There were thousands of people, young and old, marching around the Old City walls, flatbeds filled children all waving Israeli flags, vans with massive speakers tied to the roof blasting festive music. In the place where Jordanian snipers once took aim, Israeli solders stood and waved down to the crowds.

The climax was walking through Lion’s Gate, the same path the Israeli paratroopers took when recapturing the Temple Mount. I was filled with humility and euphoria as I looked upon the Temple Mount, the place of the binding of Yitzhak, and the place where the two Temples once stood.

Despite the significance of Jerusalem, the Torah doesn’t mention its name specifically; it is always referred to by Hashem as “the place that I will show you.”

Rav Shlomo Aviner, the Chief Rabbi of Beit El, asks in his book Tal Hermon why the focal point of the Jewish people is only mentioned in hints. He answers that the most important matters cannot be revealed at the outset. There are some things so awesome that we can only understand them as we partake in the journey. Even if it was revealed at the beginning, we would not comprehend its significance. Jerusalem is a place of such magnitude that the story of the Jewish people had to unfold until its greater context could be revealed and understood.

It seems to me that Jerusalem today represents the idea of the constant unfolding process. The path of the Jewish people is intrinsically connected to Jerusalem; though we still are not exactly sure how the story will unfold, and there will be many detours along the way, we know that our story’s climax will occur within the walls of Jerusalem. This year as the parade marches by the Temple Mount, but not on it, we will again get a taste of what is to come amidst the realization that we are not yet there.