Wednesday, January 23, 2013

G-d of the Mundane

This week we celebrate Shabbat Shira, the "Sabbath of Song". The Sabbath derives its name from the parsha of the week, that of B'shalach, where we read the "Song of the Sea", the song Israel sang after the miracle of their crossing on dry land and the drowning of the Egyptians. Surely there were few more exultant moments in our People''s history. Not only was a nation saved by Divine miracle from its tormentors, this slave people experienced at the Sea a prophetic revelation, one that moved them to spiritual ecstasy. They reached an unprecedented level of faith, beyond even a trace of denial. The Torah states it simply and unequivocally, "And they believed in G-d and in Moshe His servant".

Yet if we were to consider the Torah reading in its totality this Shabbat, we might name the Sabbath something entirely different. True in its early sections it tells of the crossing of the sea and Israel's inspired song of faith and praise of the Divine. But what follows is one instance of doubt and murmurings after another.
On no less than three occasions in the weeks after the Israelites crossed the sea they questioned G-d's committment to them. Facing a shortage of water and food, they said, "Why did you bring us out from Egypt to cause us and our cattle to die in the wilderness". And later they said "It would have been better to die in Egypt than die here in the desert." The Torah narrative tells us that the people tested G-d wondering "Is G-d really in our midst or not?"

If we were to study the whole of the reading, rather than call this Shabbat "The Sabbath of Song" we might call it "The Sabbath of Murmurings" or perhaps more cyncially "The Sabbath of Schizophrenia". How do we understand the dynamics here?
How do we reconcile the experience of unconditional faith attained by the People at the sea with the relentless doubts they express in the ensuing weeks?

In concert with the theme of the blog, to see the Torah as a mirror to oursleves, we need ask how are we like the Israelites of yore. Where do we display the same charactaristics of faith and then doubt, belief and then skepticsm?

When I look inwards I can see a mirror image here. The behaviors of my ancestors is not that far removed from my own. Typically where do we experience G-d? In the great moments of our lives, in the times we need a major intervention to persevere. Yes, we believe in G-d, yes we even may believe He really loves us. But we experience Him when we are going through a crisis, when much is on the line. G-d is our hero.

In the day to day encounters with living G-d falls into the shadows. We don't easily experience G-d's imminence when we take a bite into an apple or when we cross from one side of the street to the next. In the morning we make blessings each day, thanking our G-d who helps us open our eyes, makes clothes for us to wear, give us the ability to discern, makes it possible for us to move our bodies, etc.
We say the blessings as matters of fact. After all they are true. Yet we rarely feel the gratitude when we say them. We don't typically feel the imminence of G-d with us when we open our eyes in the morning or when we put on our trousers. We don't feel G-d until we need him. In the ordinary, in the mundane, we may know He is there, but He is out of consciousness.

The Israelites in the wilderness knew G-d. They believed in Him. He was, as described in "The Song of the Sea", the "man of war", the hero. The people knew G-d was there to rescue them in times of absolute adversity. What they did not yet know or feel was that G-d was with them when they were hungry or short on water. They did not feel the Divine in the routine moments of life. They wondered was He available then, could they count on Him? As the Torah tells us, they wondered "Is G-d in the midst of us or not?" The word in Hebrew 'b'keerbainu' can be translated as 'midst of us' and also as 'inside us'. The People did not yet believe that G-d lived with them in the fulness of their everyday lives.

Its true, only the experience of G-d as our hero will inspire us to song. The Talmud teaches us that it is not okay to recite the Hallel each day. Our ordinary lives cannot bring us to the spiritual high. Those moments are rare and cherished.
Yet we are called to know that G-d is not only available to us in the image of hero. G-d is accesable in His more subdued form and in every day life. The morning blessings are no song. They are however meant to give voice to the feelings of thanksgiving within and to express relationship to the G-d in the mundane . So much is this true, that, according to some halachic authorities, a blind person is not to recite the blessing each morning of thanksgiving to the G-d who provides site. We are not to express what we can't feel!

To feel G-d with us in the great moments of life is no challenge. We are naturally inspired. It is feeling G-d in the mundane that is the challenge. The G-d we connect to there may not wow us. He doesn't cause us to dance or cry. The G-d we know there evokes in us a quiet gratitude and a sense of comfort in the face of the anxieties of life and living. It's a presence that stills our anger and calms our fears.

While the G-d of the heroic may get all the press, I suspect it is our relationship with the G-d in the mundane that offers us the possibility of spiritual excellence.

Shabbat Shalom

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