In a recent article an author posited that our relationship with God is found in the intense struggle of studying the laws of the Torah. And while I do agree with some of the points that were made in the article the general idea of “The Disturbing Search for God” is something that I would like to address.
Our sages tell us “Im ein nevi’im hein, bnei nevi’im hein” – “If they (the Jewish people) are not themselves prophets, they are the sons of prophets.” Our sages offered this advice when the law was unknown. They proclaimed, if we do not know the law, let us watch the nation of Israel and undoubtedly, their actions will allow us to know what the law is. How might one begin to grapple with the troubling nature of this line? Indeed, our tradition is filled with thousands of pages of arguments and discussions trying to discover the law of truth. We therefore should be astounded and intrigued to learn that they would ever use the “easy way out” in discovering the law.
We might conclude that our Sages used this method as a last resort because it was in fact the most complicated method. As our Sages toiled in Torah day in and day out the parameters of theirs studies had no limits. An all-encompassing knowledge of Torah enables a scholar to connect unparalleled concepts. To posit that our Sages would study the laws of Passover around Sukkot and vice versa is therefore undeniably plausible. Thus, in order to find the answer to any question left unanswered they would have to wait for the correct time of year in which the Jews would be practicing that specific law. It would therefore have been much easier to conclude what the law was through a discussion of tradition rather than going outside and watching what the Jewish people were doing.
Interestingly, it seems that our Sages and our rabbis, throughout time, have attempted to clarify the most complex laws of the Torah through observation of what the Jewish people of the day had done. Certainly, the mark of a true scholar and rabbi is one who can bring our texts to life without being dishonest to our traditions. Consequently to become a true scholar with great understanding of the depth and meaning of our Torah one must toil for years on end. One must internalize the deepest concepts of Torah in order to be a decider of Jewish law.
Of course, this is not to say that one cannot claim a stake in knowing Torah, nor does it mean that one cannot open up a text and determine what to do in a common case of Jewish law. Yet, in the most complex decisions in Jewish law, among the questions that our sages and great scholars have fought over for thousands of years, only the most elite can have an opportunity to form a unique opinion. If this were the sole way to approach a relationship with God then there is no need to explain that few have even begun to do so. This elite, ivory tower, form of Judaism is luckily not the only way to serve God.
The most exalted of purposes is to serve our Creator. Yet, the laws are not the path, they are simply the road markers to keep us on track. When our Sage, Hillel, was asked to define the whole Torah on one foot, he answered, “That which is bad to you, don’t do to your friend and the rest is commentary, now go study it!” What ever happened to the majestic laws of the Sabbath? The illustrious qualifications that one must follow to keep a kosher kitchen? Hillel was trying to teach that these laws are not just important, they are in fact, the commentaries, the explanations for how we might understand life and achieve a fulfilled life. But, what is the essence of the Torah and service of God? Perfecting our connections and relationships with those around us.
The Torah forbids a priest from becoming impure by coming in contact with a dead body. Yet, the Torah paradoxically commands the priest to become impure for his family members who have passed on. A priest could have others take care of the deceased. Why does the Torah compromise his purity for his closest family members? Perhaps the Torah is teaching us this lesson of Hillel. There is no better way to understand your relationship with God than by forging connections with other people. And one’s family is the microcosm of the various relationships that one can have with God. Thus, the Torah commands that the purity of the priest is broken for the impurity of the deceased family members. Because, above the call of the priest to act as a servant in the Temple of God is the call of the priest to act as a servant in the world of his Creator. His highest obligation was in the necessity of seeing his relationships with his family members to their final moments. Perfecting his relationships with his family would ultimately enable him to understand his relationship with God. Thus, his purity is put on pause in order to allow for the potential of further holiness.
In essence, Hillel’s point was that God is not found in a book, rather, He is found in the heart of every single person who you forge a relationship with. This is how we find God and this is not disturbing. Our Sages understood that the Torah and its laws are central to Jewish life because it is very hard to reach your destination without directions. However, the destination and the goal is the relationship with our Creator. And there is no fonder way, no way more fitting to find God than in His very own creations.
 Pesachim 66b
 Shabbos 31a
 Leviticus, 21:1-2