In the last post we talked about surviving in exile by finding meaning in it. This week, I want to ask a question. Finding meaning in the exile is lovely, but what good does it do if our connection to G-d is compromised? Scattered worldwide, we lose our cohesion and ability to strengthen each other. Every community faces its challenges on its own, and the challenges are immense.
One struggles to put bread on the table, another struggles to find a Jewish spouse. One struggles with childhood trauma, another struggles with mental illness. It is easy to drown in our troubles and lose our connection with G-d. This is especially true because G-d is concealed and won’t allow us to see or feel Him. How can we remain connected if He refuses to show His face?
When Moses confronted G-d in Egypt and demanded why He made His children suffer, G-d offered a cryptic response. Among other things, He said, I revealed myself to the patriarchs with my name Sha-dai, but I never showed them my proper name. G-d’s proper name is the tetragrammaton, which is so sacred that we neither write it nor utter it. It is literally beyond us—beyond our reach.
G-d was telling Moses that though His proper name was beyond the reach of the patriarchs, it is not beyond the reach of Jews who wrestle with the Diaspora experience.
The Two Names
The name Sha-dai means enough. This is based on a Midrashic teaching that G-d created the world as a single point and allowed it to expand until He said enough. This name connotes a measured relationship between G-d and creation. He provides enough for us and even allows us to grow and expand, but never beyond our limits. When we reach the outer limits of our capacity, G-d says enough.
It is much better when G-d expands our capacity and enables us to receive unlimited blessings. This is the relationship that is implied by the Tetragrammaton—the name that is truly beyond our reach. A name that we may not write or utter is a name that is beyond human conjecture. To receive a blessing from this name is to receive truly unlimited blessing.
Parents and Children
Okay, that was pretty heavy, but bear with me because I hope to simplify it a little. Let’s use the analogy of a child at home. So long as children live at home, their parents provide for them in a measured way. Sometimes, they receive more than they deserve and sometimes less. Sometimes, they are rewarded and sometimes, punished. This is analogous to G-d’s Sha-dai mode of engagement.
Then there is the child who wandered off to some dangerous country and got lost or abducted. The parents go through literal hell for months until the child is rescued and brought home. These parents lavish great gifts on this child. There is nothing they wouldn’t do for this child. Nothing is beyond this child’s reach. This is analogous to G-d’s Tetragrammaton mode of engagement.
Children and Parents
Now, let’s turn the table for a moment and examine this from the child’s perspective. So long as children are young and living at home, they regard their parents as the fountain from which they drink. They never overly appreciate what their parents do; they take it for granted. My parents owe it to me; I am their child.
Children take a very dim view of their parents when they are punished or when something is withheld from them. They rail and complain and call their parents every name in the book. They are deeply offended that the people who were meant to act as their piggy bank have the temerity to withhold.
Children who return from captivity or from being lost perceive their parents very differently. These children are filled with a love so deep, a gratitude so vast, that they can’t stop embracing their parents. They are thrilled to be home, and their parents can do no wrong in their eyes.
The only thing that changed for both parent and child is that there was distance. When there is distance, the relationship is strained, but in a good way. The parents who pine for their child, the child who can’t sleep at night because of homesickness, generate so much tension that when they see each other, their restraint snaps, and there is nothing they would not do for each other. The love and thrill skyrocket.
When you are with your child and with your parent all the time, this intrinsic, unbreakable, immutable bond is toned down. It lurks in the background. In the foreground are all the thoughts about fairness, justice, and righteousness. When there is distance, everything breaks down; the only thing that matters is the deep intrinsic love.
When we are in exile, we experience deep darkness and great distance between us and our Father in Heaven. We suffer on so many levels. Spiritually, physically, mentally, medically, financially, socially, psychologically, etc. Yet, said G-d to Moses, the door opens to something we would never otherwise have—a deep, immutable bond that overpowers everything.
The patriarchs woke up each morning to see G-d standing over them. They had a close relationship and were always there for each other. Yet, there was a limit to how much G-d did for them and how much they did for G-d. G-d treated them with a Sha-dai relationship. He never showed them the Tetragrammaton.
You want to know why I allowed my children to suffer in Egypt? It is because I am getting set to show them my Tetragrammaton. When they come out of exile, they and I will be so thrilled to be together that they will do anything for me, and I will do anything for them.
Indeed, when G-d summoned the Jews to walk through a sea, they did just that. And when they came out on the other end, G-d gave them a precious gift—the Torah—that He had hitherto refused even to show to anyone, not to the angels and not to the patriarchs. But he gave this gift freely to the Jews because they were in a state of categorical, unbending, and unyielding love.
With this, we return to our opening question. How do we survive the exile if we are surrounded by suffering and if G-d refuses to show His face? The answer is to remember that when He is most invisible, when He seems at a distance, He is closest to us. We can call out to Him today because the bond between us is intrinsic. Unlike human parents, we don’t need to wait for our liberation to embrace Him. G-d is always present and can be embraced everywhere, even when and where He is not visible.
The very knowledge that our suffering generates this deep bond, gives us the strength to endure. It helps us anticipate that great and glorious day when parent and child will be together again, speedily in our days, Amen.