What’s with the raging wildfires and destructive flooding, the mass shootings and mindless meanness all around? How many more need to die to motivate Your mercy, to finally get You to act on our behalf? What the heck is going on with You, God?
|Bryce Canyon National Park|
One summer, we drove over 6,000 miles, visiting 20 States in 31 days in our own Odyssey minivan.
Most memorable of all were the 14 amazing National Parks. There, we were overwhelmed by America’s natural beauty. Its spacious skies and amber waves of grain. Its purple mountains, majestic; those low-lying, fruited plains. Wherever we drove, from the mountains (in Colorado) to the prairies (in South Dakota) to Oregon’s oceans white with foam, I kept encountering… HaMakom.
Of the 70 names for God referred to in Torah, HaMakom, meaning “The Place”, stayed with me during the sabbatical. Why do we call God THE Place, HaMakom? It’s a metaphor. As physical beings, we sometimes best understand difficult concepts from a physical frame of reference. If you think about the meaning of a “place”, you may agree that it is more than just a geographical location. A place is a space which is capable of containing something else. When we call God HaMakom, we mean that everything is contained within God, while God is not contained in anything. As our Sages say: “God does not have a place, rather God is The Place … of the Universe” (Genesis Rabba 68:9).
My heart first opened to HaMakom, “God as Everywhere”, as Michelle and I meandered for two days up the gorgeous Oregon Coast. Each scenic overlook brought us to a view more breath-taking than the last. Have you ever been so overwhelmed by the beauty of nature surrounding you that you lost track of time, of priorities, of yourself? Every inch of the Oregon coast was so darned beautiful. It was God’s country. It is God. HaMakom.
I felt a little like Adam in that first week following his creation. After the work of naming the animals, and the fun of dallying with Eve, what did Adam do? Midrash Tanhuma, a fifth century collection of rabbinic stories, tells us that Adam spent his free time admiring the glory of creation. Overwhelmed to his very core, Adam stood silent on the shores of the sea, contemplating the majesty around him. Then he lifted up his voice to extol God, saying: “Mah rabu ma’asecha Adonai – How great are your works, O Eternal Creator!” (Midrash Tanhuma Pekudei 3, end, on Ps. 104:24).
Imagine that! The first human being, Adam, the first to behold God’s creation, was so inspired that he became Creation’s first poet. Adam responded with astonishment, and with deep appreciation. Then he became philosophical. In both the simple beauty of the ocean and in the world’s complexity, Adam saw evidence of the Holy One.
Philosophers call this panentheism, with the world being in God and God being in the world.
The kabbalists, Jewish mystics, call this Ein Sof, that there is no end to the Holy One. God is everywhere. I just call it HaMakom.
Like Adam did, so often this summer I perceived signs of HaMakom, God’s Presence: in the ocean, in the mountains and the sky. My ears began to hear the praise-songs of nature. My heart, inspired beyond its usual capacity, began to burst.
Often we, who live closed off in cities, drive around in climate-controlled cars, work in climate-controlled offices, forget to take notice of the glorious splendor which surrounds us: California mountains and Pacific seashores, desert palm trees and picturesque sunsets. We make ourselves too busy, too stressed, too worried about money, or time, or our jobs, to see the wonder. We use every excuse to remain in our homes, walled off in our cars.
So this Shabbat – and tomorrow, and next week – EVERY DAY… be like Adam, the first human being, and open your eyes to the wonder around us.
Are you intrigued by this conception of God? Is it different from the vision of God that you no longer believe in? This year, Rabbis Paul Kipnes and Julia Weisz will be co-teaching an adult study on “God, Belief and Disbelief” which will explore up to 18 different JEWISH conceptions of God.
This adult portion of our Mishpacha Family Learning program welcomes all adult (families with children can enroll in the full program, instead of our Kesher Learning program). Sundays, twice monthly, beginning at 9:00 am. For more information, contact Susie Stark at Congregation Or Ami ([email protected] or 818-880-4880).
Today is day three of the Omer. [For more on counting the Omer, scroll down to the bottom of this post.]
We are walking toward Sinai and, eyes open, begin to notice the wonders which surround us. For the ancient Israelites, these wonders included the vast openness of the wilderness, the sand beneath their feet, and the countless stars overhead. When living as slaves, they rarely had time to look up to take note of God’s creations. Now, walking forward to freedom, they – like you and me today – can witness and embrace the grandeur of Creation.
Today is also Earth Day, our annual celebration of the plane we call “home”. We live on it; we love it. We use it; we abuse it. We assume that the Earth’s resources are endless and that our needs take precedence over everything else. After all, we argue, didn’t God tell us in Genesis 2 that we shall have dominion over all the Earth?
Then we sit idly by as species become extinct, as whole forests disappear, and the deserts begin to encroach upon the land. We watch the glaciers melt; the air turn grey; and the world heat up. As we crack open the earth to feed our oil addiction, and then we sit back impotent as the oil runs amuck polluting the earth, we might recall that our responsibility from Genesis chapter 2 included caring for and protecting the earth.
Eyes open, we begin to see – really see – the wonder around us. Like Adam on the first full day after creation, we sing Psalms of praise for God’s Chesed (kindness) in allowing us to enjoy the Tiferet (beauty) of our planet.
We become appreciative of all we have around us – trees and flowers, clean air vast open spaces, hands to bold and be held by… We are simultaneously at one with and responsible for this creation. And we realize HaMakom (the Place) is God’s Place. We understand that God is in Creation, that God IS creation. [I discovered this on a road trip through 22 states in 31 days, including visiting many National Parks. Read about my experience with HaMakom.]
Today is the 3rd day on our journey. May we witness the holiness of the earth, and may it open our eyes to the holiness of the Holy One!
Counting the Omer:
As we learn in the Torah, You shall count for yourselves seven weeks, from when the sickle is first put to the standing crop shall you begin counting seven weeks. Then you will observe the Festival of Shavu’ot for the Eternal, your God. (Deuteronomy 16:9-10). Use this Simpsons-inspired Homer Omer Counting Calendar.
We bless: Baruch Atah Adonay Eloheynu melech ha’olam asher kid’shanu bemitzvotav vetzivanu al sefirat ha’omer – Blessed are you, ETERNAL, our God, the sovereign of all worlds, who has made us holy with your mitzvot and commanded us concerning the counting of the Omer.