Where is G-d?
So you think you’re the first guy out there looking for G-d? Sorry, my friend, you didn’t discover America. People have been searching for spirituality, exploring the metaphysical and generally searching for truth for millennia. Even the greatest prophet of them all, Moses himself, was preoccupied with seeking the Divine. Moses wanted to see G-d in all His glory.
Show me please Your glory, he appeals in Exodus 33, the reading for this Shabbos (Saturday). The commentators understand this to mean that he wanted it all, the ultimate revelation. Others see it as a quest for understanding the infinite ways of G-d, like why the righteous seem to be perennial sufferers and the wicked seem to be laughing all the way to the bank.
Whatever the meaning, the Almighty places limits on Moses’ understanding. You will see My back, but My face may not be seen. Finite earthlings – even a Moses – can only perceive so much and no more. The face of G-d, the ultimate full picture is beyond human comprehension.
A youngster was being given his first theology lesson and he asked Where is G-d? The answer he received was G-d is everywhere. That’s the problem, he said, I want a G-d who is somewhere!
Everywhere is abstract, theoretical and rather intangible. Somewhere, on the other hand, is more defined, substantial and real. Yes, Judaism definitely believes that G-d is everywhere. But even more important is the somewhere where G-d is to be found.
In Judaism we find a clearly developed infrastructure of life. There is a list of behaviours that are considered G-dly and another list that may seem a lot more attractive but is deemed to be ungodly. We know exactly what G-d expects of us – and what He does not. The Torah is filled with nitty gritty do’s and don’ts. It isn’t left to our energy levels on the day or what feels good or bad to us in our highly personal and very subjective mindsets. There are objective rules of right and wrong. Morality and ethics are in the province of G-d and are therefore non-negotiable. Contrary to current thinking, they are not meant to be decided by popular consensus. Oh, we can talk about it and debate the issues all night long but, ultimately, our moral code had better be Divine and absolute or it will change annually depending on which way the wind is blowing.
I was once challenged along these lines and had to think really fast. A congregant was appearing in court on a charge of some form of white-collar crime and I was called to give character testimony for him. At one point during my testimony, the non-Jewish judge asked me, Rabbi, would you describe the accused as a religious man? I was taken aback and somewhat flustered for a split second. But I held my composure and said Yes, your Honor.
Now, in Judaism, there are pretty clear definitions of what constitutes a religious personality. The most obvious one is Shabbos (Sabbath) observance. The accused, I knew, was not yet Shomer Shabbos. So how could I have described him as “religious” – especially as I was under oath? The simple answer is that I was talking to a non-Jewish judge in a non-Jewish court. From his perspective a man who is a believer, comes to synagogue faithfully every week and does charity work qualifies to be called “religious.” The fact that my standards of defining “religious” are different from the judge’s didn’t deter me from answering his question affirmatively. And I stand by my answer with no apologies to the purists among us.
For me this was a moment of personal insight. Our Torah has a more demanding benchmark for calling oneself “religious.” To be a person of faith, to attend Shul (synagogue) and help out are all very nice and very important but still not enough to earn that exalted title. They are in the Everywhere category. Something like keeping Shabbos, though, is more in the Somewhere department. It is clearly defined and absolute. It goes beyond the surface-level ‘feel good’ stuff. As Jews, we require a more precise definition before we can really and truly call someone “religious.” G-d must be Somewhere not just Everywhere.
While I myself have argued that we don’t really know who is “religious,’ in the final analysis, it is when we connect to G-d by doing His will that we experience the greatest revelations.
Excerpted from the book From Where I Stand by Rabbi Yossy Goldman. Available at leading Jewish booksellers.