When I was in 10th grade and “G!d” was “G?d” one of my Judaic studies teachers assigned a project that prompted us to start recognizing divine intervention within our lives. She mandated three testimonies of our day where we could openly and actively notice something that happened to us that was an act of G!d.
Divine intervention or Hashgacha Pratit, often notable by occurrence of indignant miracles that stem from minor changes in circumstance, i.e., causing someone to lose their bag and have to run home, missing their flight that had crashed into the World Trade Center.
So when I was then in this position to not define G!d, but rather just see G!d—the process was beautiful. Then in moments when I had lost my keys, finding them became a miraculous experience that I understood could not have happened by chance. I really felt G!dly presence and that feeling was warm and consoling. This project deeply moved my classmates and I as we started recognizing major and minor occurrences as Hashgacha Pratit. Our lives then became one of divine perspective.
However, as one matures and grows the lessons once taught are either reinforced or entirely uprooted. When I was in my gap year of seminary I took a class that studies the text of “Iyuv” a biblical text that follows the story of a G!d fearing man and the shocking demolition of his life; a core factor of his pain being the untimely death of his children. The text then brings forth the philosophical question of “Why do bad things happen to good people and just as painful, good things happen to bad people?” However, much like everything in Judaism, you’re going to have to ask a few more questions before we answer the first.
I found my teacher’s follow up questions quite unique as she challenged us to answer just how involved G!d is in our lives. Does a fallen leaf have the “handprint” of G!d, or does it fall out of natural causes? Did G!d place that stone in the street to trip on? Does G!d even care if the vending machine gave you two sprites for the price of one? Oftentimes in Israel specifically, everyone knows everyone. People tend to equate random connections that create deep relationships to “the world being small” however I think it would be a loss to limit our experience to that. Rather than the world being small and everything happening by chance, Torah thought and lifestyle promotes larger thinking; it’s not a small world, it’s G!d’s world.
Questioning G!d’s presence brought fear to me as I had never considered anything else. The thought that even the smallest movement of the world hadn’t been willed by G!d brought deeper fear of G!ds bigger “responsibilities.” If G!d then wills some and not others, who decides the grey area? Who can say no to G!d?
Recently, I’ve been finding myself in conversations about why I believe in G!d and how can I “prove it.”
I could talk about G!d’s miracles all day. I could express how connected and loved I feel by G!d. I could say how in fear and sadness I’ve been with G!d. But to convince another that there’s validity to my belief, I don’t think I can.
Maybe the disability to “prove G!d” to a soulful searcher brings more good than bad. The truth is that although the relationship with G!d is intimate and holistic, there still requires a degree of trust. Maybe that isn’t enough for human beings to permit, but I hope it can be.
From this trust, truth builds. So when my teacher asked me in this small classroom, in an old corridor building in the holiest city of Jerusalem how involved G!d appears in this world, the answer simply remains—there is no room for G!d’s lacking here.
The ideology that G!d brings active and meticulous presence into our lives can be viewed as extreme, however the thought prompts one to then prelude this question with G!d’s relationship to the world at large.
To this question I believe a beautiful idea I once heard brings light to this question. We learn that G!d has many different names, one relating to דין (judgment) one for רחמים (mercy) and many others as well. Among these titles, written in Tanach, the name המקום (the place) in reference to G!d presents in various scenarios.
In Parshat Vayeitzei, the story of Yaakov’s famous dream linguistically begins as, וַיִּפְגַּע בַּמָּקוֹם וַיָּלֶן שָׁם כִּי־בָא הַשֶּׁמֶשׁ וַיִּקַּח מֵאַבְנֵי הַמָּקוֹם וַיָּשֶׂם מְרַאֲשֹׁתָיו וַיִּשְׁכַּב בַּמָּקוֹם הַהוּא–He came upon a certain place and stopped there for the night, for the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of that place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place.
The quote presented mentions this “place” multiple times. Of course Rashi then offers holy insight that this place serves as a physical reference to the ultimate “resting place of the Shechina” the place in which the final redemptive temple will be rebuilt and celebrated by all. Rabban Gamliel however brings forward an understanding of this word that I believe to be the “gift that keeps on giving.” He introduces his point with the realization that not all G!dly encounters are of obvious grandeur. Moshe Rabeinu, arguably the most connected human to Hashem, experienced his first encounter through the medium of a small burning shrub. This of course does not discount or discredit the immense spirituality that was shared in that moment, but rather highlights the magnitude of holy essence that proves to be discovered through every splitting sea and every cobblestone crevice. There still has to be more. Yes through the physical reality we can find holiness, the burning bush and Beit Hamikdash alike. However there still remains a significant limit to G!d. By saying the physical world can be a dwelling place for spirituality the exact opposite infers. If Hashem can preside somewhere, that must also mean Hashem cannot preside somewhere else. I unfortunately think this can progress into a deep loss of truth. To believe in G!d, there is no half truth. Rabban Gamliel explains “מקום” as the essence of All-Encompassing. G!dliness doesn’t preside in the physical world, the physical reality we know (and sometimes love) has been born out of G!dliness. Spirituality doesn’t preside in our world, we preside within it. This truth changes the way one can recognize their reality and realize their purpose in relation to.
So חזרה (review), when G!d no longer “makes appearances” in the world, what happens to our once beloved “השגחה פרטית?”
Rabbi Shais Taub says that he actually dislikes the concept of “divine intervention” for the exact same realization Rabban Gamliel illuminates. When you limit what world is, there is a missed opportunity to the depth and soul and truth infused within everything…like we said before, there is no room for there not to be G!d.
I didn’t forget the monumental question we mentioned with Iyuv before, especially this week which seems to be tragedy after tragedy. I truthfully don’t have words of consolation or spiritual insight because I know the explanation lies beyond me. However a thought I had among seeing and feeling the pain of Am Yisrael brings me back to that 10th grade class of girls. Although we started seeing G!d in ways we hadn’t before, we only were choosing to recognize spiritual reality when it worked for us.
As fortunate or unfortunate this may be, like we said earlier, to believe in G!d–there is no half truth. When spirituality structures our senses and divinity dictates our DNA, there has to be G!d in the painful and prosperous moments. This is where the trust of bigger truth comes in.
One of the most prominent examples of questioning G!d’s presence most obviously was the horrific Shoa. I remember freezing, standing in an old creaking room filled with thousands of personal belongings, being the only physical remainder of the previous owners. For the first time in my life I remember feeling deep disgust, but not in G!d.
One of the Rebbeim with us articulated this feeling perfectly, “We often ask where was G!d during the Holocaust, but really, where was man?”
We live in a world, reality, consciousness…(whatever you decide to call it) of G!d. The belief of a big man in the sky may not be enough to comfort us in these times of suffering, but when G!d becomes innate truth–good and bad, there is more room for healing. I know there is nothing that can take away the pain of our losses and to take away from the pain would be wrong. We mourn what was and what could not be. But in congruence we celebrate what was, is and what will be. That is G!d to me.
The beauty of Torah is the pursuit of. There is not one singular moment in our lives where we know G!d, so much like we seek Hashgacha Pratit in miraculous times, the challenge is to understand G!d through our deepest sorrow.
Rav Lord Jonathan Sacks zt”l in a very Rav Lord Jonathan Sacks fashion, beautifully articulates this pursuit as, “To find meaning in life is to find something we are called on to do, something no one else can do. Discovering that task is not easy. There are depressive states in which we simply cannot do it on our own.. But once we have found it, our life takes on meaning and we recover the will to live.” (The Great Partnership)
As we travel through this week of confusion, loss and pain and enter into the solace of Shabbat and Chanukah I pray we all experience the rush of G!dly light and clarity that exists absolutely everywhere, especially within.