Thursday, September 13, 2012

Where God Is Found

Parshat Nitzavim

by Rabbi Avi Billet

The Mechilta (and many other Midrashic passages) utilize the phrase "Imo Anokhi B'tzara" (Tehillim 91:15) to prove that God is not only pained by difficulties which affect the community (based on Yeshayahu 63:9), but is feeling the pain of the individual as well, as he or she is faced with personal trials and difficult times in life.
The concept that God is everywhere is not only made famous by the Uncle Moishy song, "Hashem is here, Hashem is there, Hashem is truly everywhere." We say it daily in "Kedushah" – "The world is filled with His glory." (Yeshayahu 6:3)
As Rosh Hashana comes upon us, those who are most concerned about what the outcome of the Day of Judgment will be may carry both of these notions in their own defense. If God is everywhere, I cannot hide. Nothing I do is really a secret and so my every deed can be scrutinized. And if God knows how I am suffering on this day, maybe He can fulfill His promise of being with me in my difficult hour.
After all, He made me, He gave me my yetzer hara (evil inclination), and He is constantly tempting me. And while I do make good choices much of the time, I am an imperfect human and I make mistakes.
Or, to put it a different way, sometimes things go well for me. But I've also had setbacks during the year. Family issues, financial setbacks, health problems, a loss in the family. The world is filled with Your glory! You know what I've been through! Can't You use that as part of my defense this year?
We certainly hope that this will be taken into consideration.
But there is another way to look at our relationship with God, and the role these kinds of arguments can play.
In the first verses of Devarim Chapter 30, we are told, "There shall come a time when you shall experience all the words of blessing and curse that I have presented to you. There, among the nations where God will have banished you, you will reflect on the situation and return to your God…" (translation of Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan)
The phrase Rabbi Kaplan translates as "you will reflect on the situation etc." can more literally be said to mean, "You will take it to your heart, among all the nations that you were dispersed [to] by God, to there."
The Dubno Maggid looked at the literal meaning of the words and explained, moving around punctuation in his inimitable style, "Take to your heart the understanding that in all the nations to which you are dispersed…" – God is there. Instead of "to where God dispersed you," he says "To where you were dispersed... Hashem Elokekha Shamah, that is where God is as well!"
In other words, don't despair on God! God is literally everywhere, even in the darkest places and in the most difficult moments of life - God is alongside us. He knows what we are going through. This feeling is how I understand Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik's statement describing the great lesson he learned from his mother, "to feel the presence of the Almighty and the gentle pressure of His hand resting upon my frail shoulders." ("A Tribute to the Rebbetzin of Talne")
A Chassidic tale places one of the Great Masters in a prison, put there by local authorities who had it in for the rabbi. He started to say Tehillim 23, and when he got to the popular verse "Even as I walk in the shadow of the valley of death, I shall not fear bad because You are with me" he read it differently. "Even as I walk in the shadow of the valley of death, I shall not fear" the prison. A prison is created by Man, and it is a mere combination of stones, cement, bricks, and metal. They can lock me up, but they can't lock up my mind.
"It is bad that you are with me" because here I am in prison, and I am further pained by the fact that you, Master of the World, need to also be found in this place.
Everything is relative. As much as God might see or notice the things we hope He'd miss, God also sees all the little good things we've done. As much as we might have not put too much thought into some of these deeds, they do count in our defense, and may play a significant role in getting us over the proverbial hump of the Day of Judgment.
To wherever God may have banished us, if we can bear in mind that He is there with us, feeling our pain with us, we can have a more confident outlook that He is front and center pulling for us to make it through this Rosh Hashana being positively inscribed in the Book of Life.

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