September 14, 2010
This Is my God
I cannot say that I have ever rejected God. There were some years in which I was not interested, and that, perhaps, is the greatest rejection of all (much more than hostility or lack of faith). But then the world seemed too small, too confined, far too senseless without Him; to me, He is the all-embracing, all-encompassing being, the great Mystery, the transcending reality that is above, beyond and behind all that exists.
It is also true that God plays hide-and-seek with us; He hides and I must seek Him so that I can cry triumphantly: “I’ve found Him!” This rediscovery happens throughout a lifetime. There are always periods when there is a feeling of distance, almost of alienation — even if one observes the formalities of ritual and formal prayer; yet these times are followed by a renewed finding, a new love.
How can one characterize God? Whatever we say is going to be both right and wrong. All the good, beautiful and sweet things in this world are actually His attributes and every day, nay, every moment, we see Him differently. What is the color of a bubble of water? That depends upon the angle from which I look at it; and when I gaze at it long enough, I shall see in it all the colors and hues: great, mighty, compassionate, gracious, awesome, un-understandable — but forever extremely close to me.
It seems to me that every human being, not just religious (or exceptionally holy) people, experiences such moments of grace — these are moments when one feels the great Presence, how God is close, nearby. This feeling is actually a lot more frequent than people think, but we cannot always identify it. Some people get this feeling from seeing or feeling any kind of sublimity. Others may just suddenly experience, without any prior preparation or knowledge, the bliss and security of this closeness.
God is not just the originator of the universe — an entity that gave the universe an initial momentum and then left it. I believe that creation is an ongoing process; the world is being created anew each and every day, each and every instant. The world’s existence is the result of God’s constant presence within it, and there is no life and no reality without that constant Presence — at any given moment in time, in every single particle of matter.
I also believe that God supervises the smallest details and every single individual: His Providence and interest are not confined to human beings but include every created thing. And just as He is the ruler of the great galaxies, just as He is in charge of the great eras, so, too, He is present and oversees every movement that every human being makes, and also every flying bird, every fish in the water, every skipping grasshopper, every leaf drifting in the wind, every wisp of smoke coming out of a chimney — God watches over all these things and cares about them.
Thus, God has a plan for each and every human being and every single creature. But I cannot know what His plan is for me. Every now and then, I ask Him (and sometimes receive an answer, either directly or indirectly): What am I supposed to do now according to the plan? Have I done what You wanted me to do or have I erred and misunderstood You?
At the same time, no matter whether we acknowledge it or not, each of us has a personal relationship with God. My relationship is always personal and private; precisely because He is so infinite and unlimited, He relates personally and specifically to me. It always is a one-to-one relationship, when I am by myself as well as when I am in a crowd; somehow we are always alone together.
That is why prayer, no matter the form, is so important. Prayer is always a conversation with God. It is the way we relate feelings, fears or aspirations, or make requests. There is also prayer for one’s community, for one’s own nation or for the world as a whole. And prayer can also be a different sort of conversation: an urge to say thank you, to say, “How good it is that You are there.”
We pray to God; in some ways, He answers us with decisions about our fates. Every person’s private reckoning, either for the good or for the bad, is far too complex, and no one is able to appraise oneself properly, let alone appraise others. Every year, there is a time of judgment (on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, and also later) in which one’s fate for the coming year is generally determined.
But these judgments are not absolutely decisive. Judgment and verdict are according to man’s state at that particular moment in time. When one makes a dramatic change in life, either for better or for worse, one’s verdict changes accordingly. The “book” in which God “writes and seals” judgments is, in a way, like word-processing on a computer: on any day, at any time, it is possible to change, delete and rewrite.
More than that — we can appeal. Human beings have the right (perhaps also the duty) to converse with God, to ask things from Him and also to complain to Him, to claim: “You’re not right.” It is the same right that a child has to cry and to say, “Why do other kids get more?” A human being is entitled to complain. God wants us to be honest with Him. But still and all, He cannot be judged.
On Nov. 7, to honor the completion of Rabbi Steinsaltz’s 45-volume translation and commentary, all are invited to join a day of global learning. For more information, visit this story at jewishjournal.com.