A leading figure in religion and social justice on Long Island, New York, Rabbi Dr. Steven Moss, has written an inspiring book, “God Is With Me; I Have No Fear! The Spiritual Life of a Rabbi and Its Meaning for You.”
Rabbi Moss was chairman of the Suffolk County Human Rights Commission for 28 years and for 20 years co-chair of the Suffolk County Interfaith Anti-Bias Task Force. As spiritual leader for 47 years of B’Nai Israel Reform Temple in Oakdale, he was the longest serving rabbi at the same pulpit in Suffolk County, which encompasses the eastern half of Long Island.
He served three terms as president of the Suffolk County Board of Rabbis. He is chair of the Suffolk County Community College-based Center for Social Justice and Human Understanding featuring the Holocaust Collection.
He’s been chief of chaplains of the Suffolk County Police Department and a chaplain at hospitals and nursing homes in Suffolk—and for 30 years a chaplain at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in Manhattan.
He says in his just-published book: “I share with you the moments in my life when I had experienced God’s Presence…My sharing of these spiritual encounters…is not to put me in a more spiritual place than you. Quite the contrary, it is my most humble prayer that by my sharing these experiences, you will allow the descriptions to either awaken you to recall experiences you have had or be open to similar experiences with God when they occur in the future.”
He writes of the voice of God causing him to become a rabbi. In a chapter titled “God In The Backyard,” he relates: “That day. The day I heard the voice of God. There I was, twelve years old, raking leaves in my family’s backyard. We lived in Rockaway Beach…just a few short blocks from the Atlantic Ocean. Even though it was fall, the smell of the summertime’s surf and sand were still in the air. I will never forget that day when I heard a voice, the voice of God, speaking to me.” He applied to Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. “The school replied. The admissions office thanked me for my interest and told me that I needed to graduate from college first.” Nine years later, he re-applied. “The amazing thing was that when I went for my interview for admission, they showed me they had kept my letter on file, awaiting my coming of age to be eligible.”
There is much more in the book including his experiences in his many visits to Israel.
Writing about Israel, Rabbi Moss writes: “There is something in the air that is detected from the moment you take the first breath in the Holy Land.”
“I felt this from the first time I traveled to Israel in 1972,” he relates. (He’s been to Israel 15 times and led tours of Israel.) “My excitement was palpable. I could not wait to have all the spiritual experiences that I had read about and yearned for. I was ready to meet God in the same place that my ancestors had.”
“It was at the Western Wall in the holy city of Jerusalem that I had hoped my meeting with the Divine Presence would occur. I was so excited that day as I walked down to the Wall with my tallit and tefillin…tucked under my arm,” he recounts. “As I approached the Wall, I raised my hand as one would do to greet a friend. I touched the ancient stones and felt a warmth emanating from the Wall that was more than the heat generated by the hot summer day. I began to feel undefinable sensation coming back to me filling my body, mind and soul.”
“With each ensuing trip to Israel, I continued to make numerous visits to the Wall. I was drawn to it as if it were the most powerful magnet in the world,” he says.
“However, it was one of my later visits to Israel that something happened that was truly beyond explanation or belief, which has affected my life ever since.”
He notes that the “area underneath the Wall has been excavated by archaeologists and opened to visitors. A person can now literally walk the full length under the Wall on what was street level centuries ago. There are many parts of this underground treasure of great historical significance to the Jewish people’s past.”
He continues: “One place, however, turned out to have special spiritual significance to me. This was the small area in which there was a bricked-up archway through which the Cohanim, the priests of ancient Israel, walked as they went to the Holy of Holies to offer their prayers and sacrifices to God. It is believed to be the closest anyone can currently get to the place in which the Presence of God dwelled. This one place holds so much spiritual significance that many worshippers, particularly women, sit or stand at this location all day long, and throughout the nighttime, too, reciting Psalms and offering other personal prayers. They do this because they believe that in this place their communication is most open to the Divine.”
“The first time I stood there, I was immediately drawn to it. The moment I had read of its significance and how this was the closest one could get to the inner sanctum of the Temple Mount, I knew I would find God there. I went up to the wall and placed my hand upon it. I closed my eyes and prayed in a way I had never prayed before. What happened at that moment can be understood, at least in part, only by reading what happened to me months later back at home.”
He was offering his morning prayers and when he raised his hand “as I had done at the special place in the tunnel underneath the Western Wall…I felt as if a hand were touching mine. This hand reaching out to mine was warm and smooth. Fingers touching fingers. Palms touching palms. I felt an incredible energy emanating from this hand sending this energy into my being: body, mind, heart, and soul. I believed this was the hand of the Cohain, High Priest, of ancient Israel blessing me on that day. I felt I was literally traversing the thousands of miles from the Temple Mount to my home and to the room in which I prayed. I felt the presence of God’s blessing was extended to me through the hand of the Cohain. The Eternal was with me in a very special way and I knew no fear, but rather I felt an overwhelming joy and unconditional gratitude.”
Many of his reflections about God’s presence come from his serving as a chaplain at Memorial Sloan-Kettering, ministering to patients including those dying. He tells of his own experience with death, as an avid cyclist struck hard by a car. Laying there, “I saw my head, with helmet on, hitting the ground twice. It was an image of my accident seen from outside myself.” He recovered. “I truly believe I was saved by God from death.”
“I know this is presumptuous, but I am pretty sure you, too, have heard the voice of God,” writes Rabbi Moss. “It might be the voice speaking to you through your conscience telling you what to do, which is guiding you to do the right thing and stay away from the wrong. It might be the voice of God speaking to you through the voice of a loved one who has passed away, speaking to you in a dream or at moments during the day when you actually turn around thinking that a loved one is behind you, calling out to you. It might also be the voice of God aiding you in the decisions that you have to make in your life…”
“A person feels alone after a great loss or after an important decision, and suddenly that feeling of aloneness is gone,” he relates. “A person survives a difficult surgery or an accident and then realizes that his or her survival cannot be explained by natural or logical explanations. A person has an important and decisive decision that must be made, and, after some time, the decision just rises in the mind and that person knows this is the correct one. At these moments, a feeling of awe comes over that person. There is a realization that something greater than himself or herself has just helped that person get through this most difficult and stressful experience. Just when he or she thought there was no exit, suddenly there was. At that moment of awareness that he or she has survived, there is an epiphany that it was God who brought them through. Once this awareness occurs, there can be an overwhelming expression of gratitude to God that all went well.”
“I believe in the ever-present Presence of God that opens for me that sense of wonder in the events and people I experience in my life,” says Rabbi Moss of Holbrook on Long Island. “The voice of God…is strong, but it can be heard only when we open our hearts and souls to its tone: to its sweet tone, to the ‘still small voice’ within us and within all. God is here, I have no fear!”
In his concluding chapter, “A Final Reflection,” Rabbi Moss says: “I have shared my experiences with the hope that they help you affirm your own experiences of God in your life. Some of you might be embarrassed to share your experiences with God, as you might be afraid of ridicule. I tell you: you need not be afraid.”
He writes: “I pray: May God be with you and may you know this. May you never be afraid again. Amen.”
The book is available from Lulu Publishing.
In October 2021, Rabbi Moss will be making a 200-mile bike ride from Jerusalem to Eilat with Israel Ride to raise money for the Arava Institute, the environmental research and educational center located at Kibbutz Ketura in Israel, and Hazon, the Jewish environmental organization headquartered in New York.
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