Presented by Michael Mufson at August 5 Shabbat Service
When I first remember the concept of God being introduced during my first year of Hebrew School, I can still remember vividly the scene in the class room. The teacher was telling us that God is all around us. You can’t see him/her, smell him/her but you can see his deeds- and also you cannot spell his name, please use a hyphen in place of the o. Already being the mediocre intellect at age 5, I looked around the room and kept trying to locate where this omnipotent, omnipresent god was hiding and how could I come to grips with something I cannot see? Water is clear and odorless but I know its there – I can feel it and taste it. It was a concept I could not grasp- how could something, whom you were told to not personify as a human- like being, not be seen but have all the powers of creating the world as we know it? Over time I lost interest as my belief system developed, I like too many of us became too rational to believe in an amorphous god ; certainly the one sitting on a cloud floating above.
So, I was asked to join the RS Visioning committee by my dear friend Dr. Lloyd Brotman. I felt I’d be the least likely to contribute to the dialog and its mission. First I was not a spiritual type, (2) I already joined the group of Jews who are professed agnostics but are very much committed to my Jewish identity, traditions and values and (3) I did not think myself as either content or intellectually knowledgeable enough to discuss the topic. So during our first meeting of the Visioning Committee, I quickly realized the topic of spirituality was an awkward topic for all of us, even some of the committee members who I would have thought had well honed concepts of spirituality and a concept of a god. We were all as comfortable as a 13 year old boy or girl having his/her first date. So this put me at great ease.
I learned that aahah moments are all very personalized. And means diffierent things to different people. My mini aaha moments tend to be those weekly experiences that defy the everyday; the tip of a tulip leaf breaking through the frozen earth each February, the first robin of the spring, that particular sun rise perfectly aligned with Spruce St when the light seems to provide an illusion of a rolling ball racing towards you, the moment in late August when you realize the days are much shorter – usually the amazing cycle of life on earth . But many other group members discussed how they felt the invisible hand of God in their lives through healing, coincidences of events, child births etc. It was highly individualized, pretty much how we Jews have been brought up to question the many conundrums of life.
It was during one of our many conversations that I was able to bubble up a memory of my Big Audacious Profound Moment. It occurred during my nephew’s bar mitzvah, which took place in Boca Raton Fla. He became bar mitzvah with another family and the sanctuary was filled to the brim. The congregation was made up of a large elderly populations as you might expect in southern Florida as well as a large group of religious South American Jews. As uncle, I was given the aliya of opening the ark and holding the Torah scroll during the procession around this large synagogue.
As we began the procession, my overwhelming thought was not to drop the Torah- not really sure the punishment, but recall in Hebrew school a fast of 40 days!! Was that for the Rabbis’ to endure or the Torah holder? But as we began to march as a procession, a wall of congregants circled through this cavernous sanctuary. I became unhitched from the rest of the Torah procession as an outlier. For the next 10 or more minutes I became overwhelmed by what seemed like a sea of people, radiant facial expressions communicating a total love, reverence and this magnetic power to the Torah.
This mostly elderly congregation swarmed around me and after a few minutes became a dense crowd, the Torah was touched by men’s tzit tzit, women touching their siddurs. It went on and on and the scene in front of me took on a surreal like feel – an illusional quality all being drawn by the power of the Torah. At that moment, in my minds eye- a grainy black & white newsreel of the Holocaust flooded my mind juxtaposition against the sea of elderly expressing devotion and love of the Torah, – it was a very emotional monment for me.
This went on for what seemed like hours. Upon returning to my seat afterwards, my emotional state was on overload and I remember leaving the sanctuary and going to the rest room where I began to cry from the emotive experience. First my reaction was “what’s wrong with me? Was I hurting because my father was not here to celebrate with us- he died a decade ago? No, that was not it…but I tried to use that as justification. No, for me it was the moment. It was what appeared to be the congregation’s pure expression of a love for what the torah represents. The sheer number of people all responding in such an emotional manner. The torah has been our constant as a people for 5,771 years. (Historians will use 2,500 years ago). The experience was a magical ride for me, I witnessed the power of the Jewish heart , an expression of our DNA, our constant as a people, In my arms covered with velvet and a breast plate was the very glue that binds all of us. This was quite an Profound Moment for me.
So, after 50 years of first learning about God being all around us, not having any human like features, amorphous omnipotent and omnipresent, I have not moved very far from that place as a 5 year old in Edison, NJ looking into all the nooks and crannies of my class room for where god might be hiding. Still don’t have an answer as to the existence of a God but I can enjoy those God-like moments in my life.