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?