I grew up in a traditional Jewish home where Shabbat and kashrut were observed, where my father went to synagogue every morning to pray wearing a tallit and tefillin, and where God was blessed for the food we ate and for our daily lives.
But as a child, God was only a “name” or a “word” for me. I was too young to comprehend the theological ideals of a Supreme Being.
We had a neighbor, G’veret Wein, who I used to call a witch. She was an old woman, widowed and living with her only daughter and two grown grandchildren. She would sit next to the window and shout at us young boys if the ball playing came too near. We hated her although she had done nothing to harm us. It was simply the childish way of responding to a critic. We thought that she should mind her own business and leave the joys of ball-playing for young, healthy boys.
One night after dark, I went outside and picked up a large stone. My intent was to throw it and smash her window, preventing her from watching us and shrieking at us.
As I was about to lift my arm with the stone in my hand, I “heard” or “felt” a strange reaction, one that I had never before experienced. It said to me “WHY DO YOU WANT TO HARM A POOR OLD WIDOW? PUT DOWN THE STONE WHICH IS IN YOUR HANDS”.
I was terribly frightened. I dropped the stone and ran back into our home and crawled under my bed in fear of an unknown spirit intent on punishing me. When my father came into my bedroom and saw my feet under the bed he called me out and asked why I was hiding. I told him the truth, what I had intended to do, and how a small voice inside me told me to drop the stone. My father listened and picking me up he said, “My son, what you heard inside of you was the voice of God telling you not to do a bad thing”. It was then, at that moment, when I discovered God.
He is not a name only to be found in prayerbooks or Torah scrolls. He is the still, small voice within each one of us which directs us to turn from evil and return to good. Some call it conscience. My father called it God.
A year later, all the members of our family and dear friends gathered on a Shabbat morning in April at our very large bet ha-Knesset to celebrate with my parents the simcha of my Bar Mitzvah. After I had chanted the brachot and the haftorah (Acharai Mot), the rabbi called me up to the central bima to deliver a drasha to the congregation. He “introduced” me to the mainly elderly Yiddish-speaking congregants.. “die Bar Mitzvah yingele will reden yetzt mit uns in ivris.”
My lengthy drasha was in Hebrew although I knew that few of the seated people, women in upstairs balconies and men in the main seating sections, would understand what I was saying.
At the very end, the rabbi congratulated me and invited me to “daven musaf”… to complete the prayer service. I was hesitant, although I knew the Hebrew prayers perfectly, and I remarked to the rabbi, “mi yaaleh l’har kosho? N’ki chapayim u bar levov”… who shall ascend to His holy place? Only one with clean hands and a pure heart.
I confessed to the rabbi what I had intended to do to G’veret Wein’s window a year earlier and how guilty I felt afterwards. The rabbi re-assured me that my hands were clean and my heart was pure since I had refrained from doing an evil deed.
With that comfort, I proceeded to daven musaf. At the end, dozens of elderly men came to embrace me with many “mazal tov, mazal tov” blessings.
In short, that is how I discovered the God within me. The One God within each one of us.