April 17, 2003
A Great Personality
In our Torah portion this Shabbat, Moses, who is closer to God than any other human being, pleads with God, "Show me Your presence."
Why does Moses want this? He got to talk to God. He got to witness God's miracles in Egypt and at the Red Sea. When all the Israelites were assembled at the foot of Mount Sinai, Moses stood at the mountaintop when God spoke the words of the Ten Commandments.
Still, Moses wants more. Like the Children of Israel who fashioned the golden calf, Moses longs for a visual image of God. He wants to behold God's glory with his own eyes. But God denies his request. All Moses is allowed to see is God's back.
God longs for human intimacy, but God refuses to play by our rules. God doesn't want to be known by a visual image. Instead, God offers something far more revealing. That's what God says to Moses this Shabbat. If you really want be in a relationship with Me, get to know My personality. These are my outstanding qualities: "The Lord! The Lord! A God compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in kindness and faithfulness."
That's who I am, God says. If you take the time to know Me, to listen to Me, to trust Me, you will come to love Me.
Imagine what would happen if people suddenly stopped caring about appearances and began focusing solely on the qualities of the sacred person before them. Imagine the love that would ensue. We all know the story of Jacob, Rachel and Leah.
Jacob fell in love with the beautiful Rachel the first moment he laid eyes upon her. He worked for seven years to earn her hand in marriage, but under the wedding canopy the brides were switched and Jacob unknowingly married Leah, Rachel's homely older sister hidden behind a thick bridal veil.
I've always imagined that Jacob took Leah to bed with him that night without knowing it was Leah and had a night of passionate romance with her -- their bodies intermingled, their souls intertwined, they became one, they spoke words of love, they pledged devotion. But in the morning Jacob opened his eyes, and behold it was the homely Leah beside him in bed. Jacob went into a depression. In a flash he forgot his feelings from the night before and became filled with despair over his unattractive new bride.
All too often we rely upon our eyes for seeing. But the heart within us has a deeper understanding -- it feels, intuits; it knows love, it knows God. Perhaps we have rejected someone because of some physical flaw when that person is uniquely suited for us. Perhaps we have focused too much on a person's degree, profession or wealth, without even taking the time to experience his or her qualities. As we sing in the "Hallel" this Passover, "The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone." Perhaps, like Moses, we have been searching for God's presence when God's miracles have been with us all along.
If we stopped focusing on what our eyes can see, imagine the awesome peace that would envelop this earth. Why do we fear people who look different from us? Why do we hate people we don't even know?
When God looks at us, God experiences us in our totality. As it says in the Book of Samuel, "Humans see with their eyes, but God sees into the heart." God cherishes our differences just as a parent cherishes each child's uniqueness. This one has brown hair and this one is blonde, and I love them both.
How much blood has been spilled over differences in hair color, skin color and faith? In God's eyes we are one, all of us -- all people, nationalities, races and religions. Will we ever find a way to see each other through God's eyes? Will we ever embrace our differences? Will we ever look beyond our differences to uncover the sameness that unites us all? In God's eyes we are one.
May this Pesach be for us -- and for the whole world -- a time of freedom, a time of renewal, a time of rebirth, a time of rebuilding, a time of comfort, a time of healing, a time of faith and a time of peace. Amen.
Rabbi Naomi Levy is the author of "Talking to God" (Knopf, 2002), a book of prayers and blessings.