God in Our Lives
Rabbi Renee Edelman
A little girl stands before the Community on her 12th birthday. It is Chol HaMoed Sukkot, the day that she will become a Bat Mitzvah and chant Torah for the first time. Her hands shake, as she stands behind the open Torah and begins to chant her parashah. She has lived with these words for two years. First, learning the Torah portion in English and Hebrew, and then learning the trope and putting the two together. Her voice is strong even as she shakes. Rabbi Lawrence Kushner and Cantor Lorel Zar Kessler cocoon the child. Even now, looking back upon that day, I felt that my stance matched the description of the Parashah. Rabbi and Cantor became the cleft in which I rested, and with the Torah before me and the congregation before the Torah, was the presence of God.
We read this week as we did then, the end of Ki Tissa. Frustrated with the people Israel over the incident with the Golden calf, Moses returns to the mountain to receive the second set of commandments. Moses asks God to lead the people Israel, “You go with us, so that we may be distinguished, Your people and I, from every people on the face of the earth?” (Exodus 33:16) Then Moses asks the question, which makes this parashah so special, “Moses said, “Oh, let me behold your Presence.” God responds, “I will make all my goodness pass before you…. But you cannot see My face, for a human being may not see Me and live… see there is a place near Me. Station yourself on the rock and, as My Presence passes you by, I will put you in the cleft of the rock and shield you with My hand until I have passed by. Then I will take My hand away and you will see My back; but My face shall not be seen.” (Exodus 33:17-23)
This is a substantially religiously uplifting scene. Moses leaves the camp after breaking the tablets. He leaves behind the noise of the people, their possessions and their fear, to enter the Tent of Ego. Moses is motivated by a pure desire to be in the presence of God. And that result is a religious moment so intense that Moses has to wear a veil over his face to shield himself from the radiance. By seeing God, as he does, Moses is able to lead the Jewish people with strength from within.
How do we get to be in God’s Presence, when we are not Moses and not able to see or speak with God? We find God in the moments of mystery. I have watched my kids when they are occupied and if the moment is right, I feel this bubbling in my chest that has no words and I am overcome with silent emotion. I don’t know why I received the feeling at that particular time, but I did and I can only call it God. When our bodies have betrayed us, and we are terrified of the future, and how we will take care of all we need to do; and we realize, that we are surrounded by friends and family members, who will be there, present for us, perhaps that is God. Not the illness, rather the cocoon of friends and family. Hearing a song on the radio that brings you back to a time of joy or one of despair and realizing that this song comes on for a reason. For me, who does not believe in consequence but in synchronicity- those moments that seem too planned, too directed, I call God. May we all find ways to deal with the mystery of God in our lives; whether by defining them or acknowledging them, or giving them a name.
Once a little girl stood on the Bimah chanting these words, cocooned by her Rabbi, Lawrence Kushner and her Cantor, Lorel Zar-Kessler and her congregation was the face of God, revealing God’s self to all present.
Much About God Will Always Be A Mystery
Rabbi Stephen Lewis Fuchs
Two months out of Egypt, Moses is on Mt Sinai to receive God’s Torah, but he took too long, to return, and the frightened Israelites slid back into idolatry. They demanded Aaron make a god they can see, and he fashioned a golden calf.
Furious at this apostasy, the Eternal One threatens to destroy the entire people but promises Moses a more worthy group to lead. But Moses — in one of his finest moments — talks God out it.
When we consider the Torah reading for the Shabbat during Passover it is Moses who is on the verge of giving up. “God, you have to show this people and me that You are with us,” he pleads. And God obliges him saying essentially, “I will make my goodness pass before you as you stand in the cleft of a rock, but no one can actually see my face. (Exodus 33:13-19)”
To me this is one of the most instructive statements in Torah. There is a reason we worship God and do not expect God to worship us. While Torah gives a good idea of how God wants us to act, much about God remains a mystery.
Many find the mystery of God hard to accept and create God in their image of what is just and right. A horrific event like a child dying shakes their belief in God to the core.
Shaken belief inspired one of the best-selling religious books of all time, When Bad Things Happen to Good People by Harold Kushner. Reacting to the death of his son Aaron at 14 from premature aging disease, progeria, Rabbi Kushner concluded that he does not believe that God can be both all good and all-powerful. So he chooses to believe that God is good, but there is a force in nature beyond God’s control that claimed his son’s life. His theory brings comfort to millions and offers a palatable answer to the question implied in the book’s title.
But I do not think he is right. I choose to believe – as the Torah portion for the Shabbat during Passover teaches – that there is much about God that we cannot know. I don’t know why a child gets sick and dies, and I never will. What I do know is that every day that I breathe, God desires me to use whatever talent I have to try to make this world a bit more kind, caring and compassionate.
I wish I could know why bad things happen to good people or why bad people often prosper. I do not know whether God’s power and knowledge are limited, but I know for sure that mine are.