October 6th: Sukkot
THIS WEEK IN THE TORAH
Rabbi David E. Ostrich
The special Torah reading for Sukkot is Exodus 33.12 to 34.26 and includes the famous passage where Moses begs to see God’s Face: “Moses said, ‘Oh, let me behold Your Presence (Face)!’ But, God answered, ‘I will make all My goodness pass before you, and I will proclaim before you the Holy Name, and I will show you the grace that I grace and the compassion that I show, but you cannot see My face, for humans may not see Me and live.’”
I’m not critiquing God’s literary technique, but I think I would have said it differently. I would have started with, “You cannot see My face,” and then explain, “But, I will make all My goodness pass before you.” But, of course, I’m not God—as should be very clear to everyone after all these years….
Nonetheless, this nechemta—this caveat of kindness—is, to me, the most important message. While we cannot see the essence of God, we can see the effects of God—and these blessings are all around us.
Reb Schnuer Zalman of Liadi (1745-1813) instructed his disciples in what he called “transparency:” that the Presence of God can be seen in every creation. Consider the people with whom you have contact in your daily life. Every single one of them is a creation of God with God’s imprint—a spark of Divinity—within. Some people’s image of the Divine may be more apparent than others’, but we are urged to look closely at every other person or object and see the creative spirit of God. The Hindus speak of this when they bow to each other and say, “Namaste: the god in me bows to the god in you,” but we monotheists may prefer, “The Image of God in me bows to the Image of God in you.” If we can develop this vision, we can see God’s goodness before us—and realize the truth in God’s promise to Moses.
We can also “see God” in the blessed events of human life. This was the message in the passage in the old Union Prayer Book (1940): “To the seer of old You did say: You cannot see My Face, but I will make all My Goodness pass before You. Even so does Your Goodness pass before us in the realm of nature and in the varied experiences of our lives. When justice burns like a flaming fire within us, when love evokes willing sacrifice from us, when, to the last full measure of selfless devotion, we proclaim our belief in the ultimate triumph of truth and righteousness, do we not bow down before the vision of Your Goodness? You live in our hearts, as You pervade the world, and we through righteousness behold Your Presence.
Another sacred text can help us to an awareness of God’s energy in our lives. In the Talmudic discussion of Birkat Hamazon, the blessing after meals, a question is asked about the minimum one must say to adequately thank God. When one has time or the knowledge to say the full blessing, one should. However, if one is rushed or ignorant or infirm and cannot say the full blessing, what is the minimum acceptable? The answer is: “B’rich Rachamana, Malka d’Al’ma, Maray d’hai pitah. Blessed is the Compassionate One, Ruler of all the World, Master of this food.” This ancient blessing was adapted by the modern spiritual leaders, Rabbi Shefa Gold and Cantor Jack Kessler, to include the following interpretation: “You are the Source of Life for all that is, and your blessing flows through me.”
Not only does God’s goodness pass before us, it also is manifested through us.
As we leave the intensity of the sanctuary—and all of the important things we have prayed or learned during the High Holy Days, let us focus on the outside world, looking through the walls of the Sukkah to see the goodness of God and the sacred opportunities for service.