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Where Does God Live? #701

11/12/2021 05:35:00 PM


Rabbi Irwin Huberman

Parashah Vayetzei
“Surely, the Lord is present in this place, and I did not know it.” (Genesis 28:16)

Where Does God Live?

I want to tell you about the first time I saw God.

It was a summer day — I must have been about six years old — and as I lifted my lips from my melting fudgesicle and looked through the clouds at the partially blue sky, I was sure I saw God’s face.

Was it the vision of an old man or the puffy cheeks of an angel? Not sure. But I am sure that on that day I felt God’s warmth brush across my forehead.

I didn’t need a rabbi to point it out to me. I just felt it in my soul.

Over the years, the feeling has repeated itself. In the birth of a child or a grandchild. The changing seasons. Five-part harmony. The miracle of light. Snowflakes — no two alike. Song birds. Ocean waves. The stars. The rainbow after the storm. The wonder of DNA.

While there may be rational reasons for any of these phenomena, combined they inspire me to consider the wonder of creation and the miraculous handiwork of a divine designer.

Although my first encounter with God’s spirit was inspired by looking toward heaven, over time, I’ve learned that God and the miracle of life exist everywhere.

The great spiritual teacher, Deepak Chopra, once noted that "God cannot be found in a book of religion." I’m not even sure that God can be solely found by looking up to the heavens.

Too often we believe, that God is "up there,” while we are "down here." That suggests that we are separate from God. It implies that God must be brought to earth. Perhaps that’s why so many claim that they cannot find God.

Too many believe that the only place they can encounter God is in a formal place of worship. And while prayers and communal gatherings help focus our spirituality, I think most would agree that our most profound “God moments” have occurred within life’s smaller events and interactions.

They even appear in our dreams.

This week in our Torah reading, we are inspired to consider the question, “Where can God be found?” As Vayetze (Jacob left) opens — one of Judaism’s most inspirational figures is on the run.

After stealing the family birthright from his brother Esau, fleeing from death threats, and walking for a long day through the desert, Jacob places his head on a rock and dozes off.

And within his slumber, he envisions a stairway to heaven, with angels ascending and then descending. The dream becomes known as “Jacob’s Ladder.”

Deeply moved by this experience, Jacob awakens from his slumber and declares, “Surely, the Lord is present in this place, and I did not know it.

“How awesome is this place,” he continues. “This is none other than the abode of God.” (Genesis 28:16, 17)

Really, is there a more accurate statement anywhere in the Torah?

Someone once gifted me a coffee mug which reads: I saw that — God.  I have yet to drink from it.

There is something forbidding about it — the idea that God sees all. There are some things that I somehow hope God doesn’t notice about me — maybe you feel the same way.

My driving. My eating habits — to name two. How inhibiting it would be if we felt God was watching or judging our every word or action.

Yet there is a message in all of this: God is "in this place" each time we interact with life. And this can occur even during our most solitary and seemingly lonely moments.

Notice that the angels do not come down from heaven. Rather they rise from the bottom of the ladder. Indeed, our experience with God begins on Earth.

God is found at work in how we complete our tasks or interact with our fellow employees. God is in the way we engage in — or preferably refrain from — meaningless chatter or gossip.

God is in our relationships. We are blessed with family and friends, who may not always be perfect. Do we choose to focus on the virtues of those around us, or do we lose our patience with their imperfections?

Do we fill life’s occasional emptiness with technology’s endless noise, or do we embrace that “small still voice within?”

Do we embrace the pleasures of our lives? Some feel guilty when they experience pleasure, as if they are undeserving. But God can be found in happiness.

Most importantly, as this week’s Torah portion teaches, God can be found in every step we take, every move we make. God is more than a resident of a synagogue. God is present in all creation if we, like Jacob, envision an uplifting connection between earth and heaven.

Throughout our lifetime, like Jacob, each of us will face difficulties, challenges, obstacles and conflicts. But this is how we grow.

Jacob laid his head on a rock during one of his lowest spiritual moments, and he saw God. We can do the same as we apply the best principles — those lessons taught by our parents, grandparents and ancestors, as we navigate the ladder of our challenging and often-complicated lives. 

It’s just sometimes we fail to notice.

I often recall my first experience with God. It was sweet, it was pure and it was filled with joy.

Over time, life has added veils to cover that vision. But it has grown as I have. It is always there.

God is in every place.

Sometimes we just need to look up from the hard places of our daily journey, to realize how truly lucky we are.

Shabbat Shalom, v’kol tuv.

Rabbi Irwin Huberman


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