“Seek His/Her presences!” Psalm 104:5
The mystical Jewish tradition favors a feminine word for the Divine –
Shechinah, meaning the divine presence. In both the biblical and rabbinical tradition, the notion of God as transcendent, unknowable and far off is pervasive. Unlike the immanent deities who have a physical manifestation on earth walking and talking with mortals, our tradition preferred to see the divine as indefinable. Such is reflected in another mystical expression Ein Sof, the “One who is beyond definition.” For those who want to know the “face of God,” such a view is frustrating. A tradition that abides by God being present physically may find that kind of belief inviting, but from the Jewish point of view it is unacceptable because God is not to be limited physically. In fact, many of our forebears condemned it as idolatrous. In some ways I find our posture, though frustrating as well it does comport with my Jewish sensibility to seek and grow and discover. The following anecdote by Rabbi Dov Baer, a Hasid of great merit gives voice to this view, but in addition compassionately provides a touching idea that God can have hurt feelings.
“Once as the Rabbi was walking on the street he saw a little girl hiding in the alcove, weeping: “Why are you crying, little girl?” asked the learned sage. “I was playing Hide and Seek with my friends, but no one came to look for me!” The Rabbi sighed and said to his students later that day, “In the answer and the tears of that little girl, I heard the weeping of the Shechinah, ‘and I will surely hide My face’ (Deuteronomy 31:18). I, God, have hidden Myself too, as it were, but no one comes to look for Me!”
(Dov Baer of Mezritch , Maggid Derav Le-Yaakov, ed. Rivka ShatzUfenheimer (Jersusalem: Magness Press, 1976). (P198 -199)
In our post Holocaust age and in an era in which secularism prevails, we tend to strongly favor culture over faith; not that culture cannot contain spiritual elements. As I find myself getting closer (hopefully not too soon) to “meeting my Maker,” the idea of God makes more and more sense. In our tradition which is characterized by the Mitzvah System (613 commandments) that draws us closer to the divine, the reasons that are celebrated seem to be more sentimental than spiritual. Over my forty years as a Rabbi, I have heard a fair number of parents say to their children over the years “Just have the Bar or Bat Mitzvah and then you don’t have to go to Temple anymore!” What should be an entry passport to Judaism becomes an exit, hypocritically so. Just call it a Bar and jettison the Mitzvah part! In leading up to the same, some parents who seldom set an example by going to services and showing the reason for Hebrew school confuse their children. They would no sooner force them to learn Swahili for no purpose whatsoever.
In our tradition, a word in Hebrew sums up what could and should be our sense of spirituality – Metsuveh, a feeling of being commanded, of ending the despair of God who has felt abandoned.
Rabbi Yossi Liebowitz D.D.