Vayera: Finding G-d

When a man at an advanced age performs circumcision, utilises an organ notoriously associated with personal pleasure, to fulfill a divine commandment, he has put himself aside and made G-d his epicenter.

Rabbi Lazer Gurkow,

Rabbi Lazer Gurkow
Rabbi Lazer Gurkow
Rabbi Lazer Gurkow

Easier Said Than Done
A priest was baptising children at the ocean when a Jew walked by. The Priest asked, if he would like to be baptised and the Jew agreed. The priest grabbed him and put him under the water. Ten seconds later he gently brought him up and asked if he had found the lord. The Jew replied that he hadn’t whereupon the priest shoved him back under water. When the Jew came up for air, the priest asked again if he had found the lord. Sputtering the Jew retorted, “are you sure you lost him here?”

G-d is hard to find because he concealed Himself and when G-d goes into hiding, it isn’t easy to find Him. Kabbalah teaches that G-d operates with two names. One is His ineffable name, which connotes G-d in a revealed state. The other is Elo-Him, which connotes G-d in a concealed state. Revealing the concealed, transforming the hiddenness of Elo-Him, is difficult to do, but is the purpose of life.

The Hidden G-d
Let’s analyse the name Elo-Him. Isaiah wrote, “Seu, Marom Enechem, Ureu Mi Bara eleh,” lift your eyes and see who created these. Mi in Hebrew means who. Eleh in Hebrew means these. Who is the unknown, when you don’t know someone’s identity, you ask, who? Eleh by contrast is the revealed. When you see it, you can say, Eleh, these are them. Who created these, is not just a question, it can also be read as a statement. The concealed one, the one we refer to as, mi, created these, all that exists.

Thus, the name Elo-Him, the name of concealment, comprises the two words, eleh mi. When G-d concealed himself to create these–all that exists­–He used the name Elo-Him. But it was His desire that we seek and find the concealed Creator, the mi that created eleh. Thus, he told Isaiah, lift your eyes and see [that] mi created eleh.

Change Yourself
How do you find G-d? how do you find the concealed? The answer is by changing yourself. By moving away from a self based outlook, to a G-d based outlook. A self based outlook means that we put ourselves first. When we are insulted, we take offense. When we are shamed, we grow defensive. We become the epicenter of our own existence. With a G-d based outlook we take a different view and worry less about such things.

Suppose someone hurts your feelings and you are very upset. Then you receive the devastating news that your health is imperiled. You quickly forget about your bruised ego and focus on something much larger, your life. Suppose your health improves and you escape danger, now you are ecstatic and once again you couldn’t be bothered, your happiness can’t be marred, by those insults.

The upshot is that when you are focused on something larger, it puts pettiness in perspective. Now imagine being able to remain focused on G-d’s overarching presence in our lives, right beside us, no matter where, and no matter when. If you are enthralled with G-d’s choice to stand beside you, you won’t worry about a bruised ego, you won’t even have an ego. You will be focused solely on G-d.

To be focused on G-d, requires training–to think of the Creator, every time you look at creation. To think of mi every time you gaze upon eleh. That is how you transform Elo-Him, where eleh obscures mi, into eleh mi, where eleh is suffused with and channels mi.

Shining Sun
This helps us understand why the Talmud says that those who are shamed, but don’t reply, are like the sun that emerges in strength. The sun is revealed light. The Talmud tells us that G-d placed the sun in a sheath so that its light would not overwhelm us. This is similar to the concept of Elo-Him. The sun in a sheath represents, G-d in concealment. Yet, those who transcend their ego represent the sun at its strength. G-d’s presence is not concealed for them. It is utterly and viably revealed.

We read a similar story about Abraham. At the age of ninety-nine, Abraham circumcised himself. He was weak and tired and G-d wanted him to rest. Knowing that Abraham would jump at every opportunity to host a guest, G-d removed the sun from its sheath to ensure a very hot day. This would reduce the number of travelers and give Abraham a much-needed break. Abraham, however, sat at the door of his tent in the heat of the day. He did not want to sit idle. He sat at the door impatiently awaiting an opportunity to host a guest, an opportunity to help a traveler in need.

Let us now unpack this story and explore its depth. The sun out of its sheath represents G-d in a revealed state. When a man at an advanced age performs circumcision, utilises an organ notoriously associated with personal pleasure, to fulfill a divine commandment, he has put himself aside and made G-d his epicenter. For Abraham, the sun was out of its sheath. G-d trumped ego, pardon the pun.

What was Abraham’s response to the unsheathed sun? It was to sit at the door of the tent. A tent provides shelter from the sun. A tent provides shade and cool. But when the sun is unsheathed, there is no shelter from the sun. The tent sprouts an opening and Abraham settles down at the opening.

The Hebrew word for tent is ohel, the letters of which also spell the word eleh. Just as eleh conceals mi, so does ohel, the tent, conceal the sun. But when the sun is unsheathed, when the mi is exposed, the omnipresence of G-d becomes real in our minds, then instead of concealing mi, eleh projects mi. A crack appears in the ohel and the light filters through.

The Door
The ultimate goal though is not to luxuriate in the light, but to draw in as much light as the tent can hold. Delet, Hebrew for door, shares etymology with deli, Hebrew for bucket, and ledah, Hebrew for birth. You use a bucket to draw a finite amount of water out of an endless ocean. Abraham sat at the opening of his tent gazing upon the sun, the endless light of G-d, unsheathed. The next step was to draw a bucketful (deli) of light, through the (delet) doorway into the tent’s physical reality, and use the light to give birth (ledah) to a whole new approach to serving G-d.

At the opening of the tent, Abraham luxuriated in the unsheathed light of the sun–our sages taught that G-d paid Abraham a visit. But the moment three visitors appeared, Abraham left G-d’s side and poured the inspiration of that moment, the light of that opening, into a grounded action, the mitzvah of hospitality. He invited his guests to step through his doorway (delet) and collected a bucketful (deli) of mitzvah. In reward, received a prophecy about the coming birth (ledah) of his future son, Isaac.

We end where we began. Finding G-d is never easy, but the path to this find runs through personal change. Pair down the ego, and G-d’s presence becomes visible, even in the shelter of the tent.[1]

Sources:

[1] This essay is based on Isaiah 40:26, Babylonian Talmud, Yoma 23a, Baba Metziah, 86b and Shavuos: 35b, Or Hatorah pages 1367, 1907 and 1909.






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