Mishpatim 5781: Seeing G-d and Ourselves

photo by E. Judelman

Yesterday I saw G-d.

Don’t stop reading.  Let me explain.

We read in this week’s parsha, Mishpatim:

Then Moshe and Aharon, Nadav and Avihu, and 70 Elders of Israel ascended; and they saw the G-d of Israel: under His feet there was the likeness of a brick of sapphire, like the very sky for purity. (Shmos 24:9-10)

These pesukim challenge many of the commentaries who try to understand what the Torah means when it says that they “saw” G-d.  On one hand, it’s very common to use anthropomorphic language to describe our G-dly experiences.  Not only because it helps us understand what we experienced but also because it brings Hashem into our world.  Judaism is never fleeing to a mountaintop and removing ourselves from society, rather it is about using this physical world to serve Him and to build a relationship with Him.  This week’s parsha is filled with very specific and physical mitzvos.  And yet, it is through these kinds of small details and daily interactions that we can actually find a closeness and meaning with The One Who is Beyond Time and Space- because, in giving us these commandments, He is telling us how to “see” Him in everything that we do.

Rav Shlomo Aviner taught that, “Hashem is both transcendental and imminent.  Hashem is distant as distant can be and near as near can be….the Master of the Universe is beyond any subjective concept through which we meet Him, and this is a fundamental element of our faith.  Our great, inner yearning for Hashem in the depths of our Divine soul helps us grasp a small amount of Hashem, who is the most supreme.” (Dvar Torah, Haftorah Yeshayahu)

The fact that we can sense Hashem’s presence at all is a gift from Him.  Despite being so beyond us, He gave us a vessel through which we can look for and even “see” Him, a soul.

And that brings me back to yesterday.  I was out walking, enjoying the beautiful weather that we have been blessed with this week in Israel, and I looked up to see a bird hovering over me.  It was not flying; it was simply hovering.  And every few seconds it flapped its wings wildly…just to stay in one place.  And I thought, “that’s what I have been doing, flapping my wings just to stay in place and not fall down.”

Have you been doing that too?  I often use the analogy of a ball on a hillside when I am talking about life and learning Torah.  One of the hard but real truths about almost anything is that if we are not actively trying to move forward, we are already falling back.  It’s true about exercise, relationships, learning a skill, and of course, feeling a connection to HaKadosh Baruch Hu. Not from His side but from ours.

This year we have expended so much energy to simply not slide backwards.

And yet, the bird’s movements were beautiful to me.  The way that it hovered midair, gathering strength to flap urgently for a moment, gaining enough stability to, once again, float in stillness.  Can it be that our movements, our constant flapping, is also beautiful to G-d?  We have learned many times that our efforts to come close to Hashem are pleasing to Him.  That even “wanting to want to come close” is beloved by Him.

And in that moment, in watching a bird act out my feelings and thoughts of the past few months, I felt a connection.  I felt a healing.

In these same pesukim mentioned above, there is another puzzling image- that of the “sapphire brick” laying under Hashem’s “feet.”  Again, the commentaries grapple with understanding.  The Rabbeinu Bachaye sees this brick as a reference to the bricks that Bnai Yisrael were pressed into making as slaves in Mitzrayim.  He teaches us that the presence of this “brick” is Hashem’s way of telling us that He was there with us in our suffering.  That when we are persecuted in the physical world, He suffers along with us in the Heavens.  Knowing that He is there, that He has a reason for everything that happens in this world, and that He is pushing us for our own growth can make the difference between falling and continuing to have the strength to flap our wings.

We are all traumatized by the events of this year, but when we “see” Hashem’s light shining through them, then we can look back at our actions, feelings and efforts and be encouraged to keep going.  We can even “see” ourselves through Hashem’s “eyes” and know that with all of the tears, sweat, scars and cracks we are beautiful to Him.

I bless each one of us with the strength and courage to look for G-d and the depth and open-heartedness to “see” Him.  In everything.

Shabbat shalom and Chodesh Tov.

About the Author
Shoshana Judelman is passionate about teaching Torah and Jewish History because connecting to our roots empowers us to live more meaningful lives. To that end, Shoshana teaches shiurim online and in her community, co-leads inspirational trips for women to Ukraine and guides at Yad Vashem. She and her husband, Chaim, and their 6 kids have been living in Efrat since they made Aliya in 2013.
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