Saturday, July 07, 2007

God

When I first started reading the Jewish blogs, I came across a letter penned by an ex-yeshiva student. Within that letter, he made a point that resonated with me.

He explained that he had been taught halakha, Navi, Chumash, Gemara and the like, but he had never actually been taught about God.

They had simply not discussed it. It was assumed, perhaps, that God was irrelevant at this point; you believed in him and the only thing remaining to do is to teach you how to best fulfill his laws.

And it occurred to me that it was much the same at Templars; we are taught how to fulfill laws and mitzvot and focus on particular issues relating to these mitzvot, but we do not discuss and do not talk about God. And one of the reasons I found the Rav so compelling was that he did think about God; he very much delved into and explored his own relationship with God.

So here is what I would like to ask you: what is your perception of God?

How do you relate to him? Is he even male, in your mind? When you pray, to whom do you pray- what persona, what facet of God? What kind of relationship do you have with God? What is your God like?

I am not asking you for who your God should be. I am not looking for a halakhic answer mandated by another as to how one should visualize or not visualize God- unless that is indeed the way you relate to him. I am asking you how it actually is with you. I understand that to some extent, we create God in our own image. I don't want you to try to strip that away from your perception of God. Describe him, please, as he actually is to you.

When I ask what kind of relationship you have with God, I am asking is God, your God, a King, Father, Creator, Master, Shepherd, Savior, Friend, Warrior or perhaps someone entirely different? I understand that God has many facets; I am asking you which one you particularly relate to.

Please think about this and have your own answer before reading the next part of this post.

~

The Rav makes a very interesting observation about humans on a whole. We are caught between two extremes; we exist on two different levels. On the one hand, we are infinitesimal dust-specks caught within a large and elegant universe. God is God of the cosmos, infinite and mighty. On the other hand, man is strong and powerful, a creator in his own right. He can connect to a personal God, have his own "romance with the Creator."

The Rav once wrote:

    However, with the arrival of the dark night of the soul, in moments of agony and black despair, when living becomes ugly and absurd, plainly nauseating, when man loses his sense of beauty and majesty, God addresses him, not from infinity but from the infinitesimal, not from the vast stretches of the universe but from a single spot in the darkness which surrounds suffering man, from within the black despair itself. Eleven years ago my wife lay on her deathbed and I watched her dying, day by day, hour by hour; medically, I could do very little for her, all I could do was to pray. However, I could not pray in the hospital; somehow I could not find God in the whitewashed, long corridors among the interns and the nurses. However, the need for prayer was great; I could not live without gratifying this need. The moment I returned home I would rush to my room, fall on my knees and pray fervently. God, in those moments, appeared not as an exalted, majestic King, but rather as a humble, close friend, brother, father: in such moments of black despair. He was not far from me; He was right there in the dark room; I felt His warm hand, kaviyachol, on my shoulder, I hugged His knees, kaviyachol. He was with me in the narrow confines of a small room, taking up no space at all. God's abiding in a fenced-in finite locus manifests His humility and love for man. In such moments humilitas Dei, which resides in the humblest and tiniest of places, addresses itself to man.

    from 'Majesty and Humility'

For me, God is a father figure.

What the Rav describes, where God is so close to you that you can feel Him there, where He is a father and loving and very understanding, that is the way I relate to God.

When I address God, it is like speaking to my father. My God is very understanding but strict; I am responsible and accountable for my actions. I know he will love me no matter what I do, but he is very saddened when what I do is incorrect. In fact, my God is very sorrowful rather than angry. The "anger" he has is because he hates watching people engage in a form of self-destructive behavior. He is unable to stop it- he tried, of course, sending prophets and the like, but it did not work. So he sorrows on behalf of his creations when they do wrong.

My God knows me so thoroughly and so well that I hide nothing from him. He knows all my weaknesses, my flaws, my good traits and the bad ones. I can be angry at him, hate him, be frustrated by him, upset by the way he does things and I will tell him so. I will and can tell him because he knows anyway, as he can read my thoughts. More importantly, he is my father. So there is nothing to be scared of, no retaliation if I tell him I am upset with him. Only understanding.

I was rather surprised by Rabbi Haym Soloveitchik's statement in Rupture and Reconstruction that, "There are, understandably, few Tevyes today, even in haredi circles. To be sure, there are seasons of the year, moments of crest in the religious cycle, when God's guiding hand may be tangibly felt by some and invoked by many [... ]but they are not the stuff of daily life."

I talk to God all the time. I am not mad; I don't wander around muttering things under my breath. But generally, especially when I am alone, I engage in dialogue (and yes, I speak aloud) with God. It is usually very simple. Today, for instance, was a perfectly glorious day- the sun was out and shining and the grass was so green. So I thanked God for today. I was walking along and I spoke to Him and told him how happy I was and thank you.

I write letters to God. You've read one. I have many more. Writing is the way I figure things out; my thoughts become clearer. I write letters as a way to understand what I am thinking, and also to talk to Him.

I wonder if this is so unusual, if it is really as R' Hayyim says. It is so natural to talk to God. I feel him there, after all. So why not speak?

I've asked several different people how they relate to God, who they speak to when they pray to him. One told me as the Creator, the one who created and creates the cosmos and us every single day. Another told me as a King, someone who is strong and powerful and who will punish the wicked. Yet another said as a Judge, and emphasized that God is patient. And I see him as a father.

Perhaps it is our own personal experiences that mold the God we see. Someone who has been persecuted would therefore see God as a strong King who will dole out judgement. And I would see him as a Father...

How do you see God?

16 comments:

yitz.. said...

Until now, HaShem has always been a father figure, warm, caring, and all-knowing.

Doing mitzwoth is more about not letting Him down than worrying about punishment. Not wanting Him to be disappointed with me, but regardless I know he always loves me and will always take care of and protect me.

I feel very differently about Him trying to get people to improve but them not improving..(as you Chana said above) I feel like He simply has compassion for the great difficulty and tremendous struggle it takes for someone to overcome themselves and their nature. (of course He does, He's the one who designed it all.) I feel like He tends the garden of everyone's existences happy with their individual growth but overjoyed at the occassional surprise when someone breaks free of their restraints and pushes stubbornly for a closer relationship.

And He plays with me all the time, pulls really funny jokes and reminds me chidingly about what's really important and what isn't. (Exactly as a father would educate an intelligent child, not to get upset about meaningless things, not to worry about things beyond our control, not to waste our energies pursuing things that won't give us what we need.)

I also look forward to the eventual afterlife because I know all the things I want the most that are forever just beyond my reach are waiting for me there.. this world is about performance under pressure, not about the overall accomplishment.

In the past year I've actually tried to transform my relationship with HaShem as a father figure into something more intimate now that I know what the relationship between a husband and wife is firsthand.. and we just had our first child this year so it adds so many dimensions to this relationship..

More and more HaShem is my whole world, everything around me. More than a Father or Parent, King or Warrior, HaShem is fast becoming my everything.

Jameel @ The Muqata said...

Definitely a parent figure. Not so much "king", as "creator".

Being a parent has radically changed my outlook on my understanding of G-d...including the idea of reward and punishment...and forgiveness.

While kids may drive us insane from time to time, AND get into trouble, at the end of the day, we forgive them when they are sorry...and even if they aren't.

Tobie said...

I'm afraid that I've succeed in abstractivizing my vision of G-d such that I have a hard time seeing him in any human guise, which may be lovely philosophically, but it makes davening a real pain. For formal prayer purposes, I prefer the vision of an audience in a very formal medieval court- it tends to keep me grounded, while for personal "Oh, G-d, help me situations" I guess I go more with the paternal imagery.

In general though, when I really reach out to G-d, He's less of any sort of human image and more of a...force, a presence that is warmth and goodness, in a definitional sort of a way. He is all the nicest bits of myself and of existence, simultaneously and more so.

jackie said...

Hey, just wanted to say that I like the new banner for the blog. And on my computer, the text has also widened, which is really wonderful! I don't know if that's just my computer or if it's also a change on the blog's layout, but it looks great!

Scraps said...

I think I tend to have a very similar view of G-d to yours, Chana. I see Him as a loving father, who knows and wants what is best for me, but because I must grow my own wings, He must sometimes appear cold or distant or punishing. But b'chot zot, He is still my father who loves me and will forgive me my mistakes.

I also talk to G-d a lot; I usually keep up a running conversation with Him whenever there's no one else around to talk to. I thank Him for beautiful days, little things that make me happy, cool stuff that He makes, etc. To me, He is close, in good times and in bad. I can't always feel the connection in the words in conventional davening, but I'm always talking to Him, whether in my words or the words of Chazal.

I think that a lack of connection with G-d is one of the biggest problems in the overall Jewish community today, across the board. Think about it--if people really truly felt that G-d was close and always watching, would they engage in so many of the hypocritical, off-putting, contradictory behaviors they do now? Would people cheat on their taxes, gossip about their neighbors, go to Florida and get wasted over winter break or Pesach, et cetera ad nauseum? If everyone really had an awareness of G-d as a close figure in their lives, if we as a people did a better job of fulfilling "Kedoshim Tihiyu", we'd be much, much better off as a community and as ovdei Hashem.

Chana said...

Jackie,

Yes, I changed it around a bit. Glad you like it.

Scraps,

"I can't always feel the connection in the words in conventional davening, but I'm always talking to Him, whether in my words or the words of Chazal."

You know what? We're twins. *smile*

Irina Tsukerman said...

I think of G-d as a form of higher energy that includes everything and permeates everything, that IS the cosmos. I don't like to adopt any of the traditional facets in my mind or assign any human roles. For me, I can only accept the idea of G-d, if that is the idea of something infinitely greater than ourselves and unknowable, yet something that goes THROUGH everything, part of everything (hence, the idea of the divine spark).

Scraps said...

"You know what? We're twins. *smile*

I've been hearing that from so many people lately, I think I'm up to octuplets. :)

daat y said...

Chana,
If you have so much respect for the Rav and his conceptualizations then it is incumbent upon you to work on your tefila kevua besides your 'talking to God.'The Rav puts great emhasis on davening.Learning the meaning and depths of the tefilot will only enhance your relationship with God.

Holy Hyrax said...

Frankly, I perceive God more like a poker dealer.

chardal said...

I must say that your approach seems to be a self-developed Breslov approach.

My own approach ... the best word really is Ein Sof - of the Tanya variety.

Chana said...

Daat Y,

I know- but all his words about prayer as being something that originates out of man's need/ in his time of suffering ring truer to me. I've read his essays/ works on Tefilla proper and especially the way in which he seems able to connect to the community via minyan/ shul, and while what he writes is beautiful, I can't connect to it.

Chardal,

Re: The Chassidut angle. I have these incredible Ba'al Shem Tov books that I have never seen in the States; my dad bought them from Belgium, maybe? I don't remember where he bought them from. Four-part series and the covers are pink. They're brilliant and I love them and they make me happy. And the way the Ba'al Shem Tov is portrayed in those books- whether as a little boy going out to the forest or redeeming people's souls or taking great joy in the words of simple Jews- is gorgeous. I never tire of those books.

My supposed Chassidut is actually very much explained in all the Rav's thought- for example, the teacher who taught him Tanya instead of Gemara (if I'm remembering correctly) gave over the essence/ feeling of Torah, he explained. And he has many essays about emotion and how he feels it is impossible to transmit emotion to his students, and struggles to do so.

Of course, I've taken it farther...

Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

God is a trickster deity. God is an artist. God pulls strings, and you never know which strings are being pulled and which are moving on their own. God is a parent, but sometimes God acts more like an older sibling.

chardal said...

>Re: The Chassidut angle. I have these incredible Ba'al Shem Tov books that I have never seen in the States;

Baal Shem Tov is great! But what I really see in your description is Rav Nachman. If you want some great reading on Rav Nachman, check out the following:

http://www.orot.com/shir.html

http://www.amazon.com/Rabbi-Nachmans-Wisdom-Rebbe-Nachman/dp/0930213009/ref=sr_1_13/102-3863787-0936923?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1184177817&sr=8-13

http://www.amazon.com/Seven-Beggars-Kabbalistic-Nachman-Breslov/dp/1580232507/ref=pd_bbs_sr_10/102-3863787-0936923?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1184177817&sr=8-10

The following is not specificially about Rav Nachman but does discuss Hitbodedut as a form of Jewish meditation - highly recomended all around:

http://www.amazon.com/Jewish-Meditation-Practical-Aryeh-Kaplan/dp/0805210377/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1/102-3863787-0936923?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1184177817&sr=8-1

As far as the Rav and Tanya. I actually consider halachic man to be the single most anti-Chassidic work of the century! being chassidic minded myself, I actually got ANGRY the first time I read it. (the second and third readings calmed me down and now I appreciate it more :) ).

Anonymous said...

I do not see Hashem as father because my real father don't like see me going through pain times at all. Hashem rather let my father to do that so He could be distant meaning thinking outside of the box, Hashem knows what is best for me, my father is blind by love, Hashem is not blind but I know He loves me. I see Hashem as Creator, and Leader because I know Hashem put me in the postion in this world for a reason, maybe he wants me to do this world to carry the message across the world. He knows me the best better than my father.