In a very moving interview the mayor of Mexico Beach recounted that, upon exiting his home after Hurricane Michael leveled the town, "he dropped to his knees." None of us can remotely comprehend his mindset. Utter devastation seized him and he responded almost without thinking. In our mind's eye we can all appreciate such a posture. Even though we rarely fall to our knees we can understand the sense of doing so; overwhelming emotions, awestruck and realizing that we are in the presence of grandeur far beyond our scope.
Perhaps that is how Worship began; our ancestors felt a sense of grandeur overwhelm them and they responded by getting down on their knees. At some later point chants, sacred songs and words we now intone emerged and attached themselves to bending and bowing. Centuries later we still follow their examples.
This week Abram walks onto the stage of Genesis and the Torah becomes a Jewish document. A nomad, Abram pitches his tent and suddenly encounters the Creator of the universe. Bowled over by the intensity of God’s outreach, Abram builds an altar. The construction project is a human response to an overwhelming experience of the Divine.
Two verses later Abram pitched his tent elsewhere and built an altar again. He called out to God (we would say he prayed) but God’s voice is absent. In the second scene Abram took the initiative to reach out to God. Strikingly, God does not reply. I might wonder why Abram initiated worship in the second scene without God’s overt call. Maybe Abram was so moved by his first encounter that he wanted a repeat experience. It turns out that God only speaks with Abram thrice more, twice within 11 years after the first encounter and the second time an additional 13 years later. As great as Abram was his Divine experiences were few and far between.
Occasionally people ask me if I have heard God’s voice. I must answer not audibly. But, only rarely did Abram hear God. Perhaps the challenge is to seek God, not in an audible or visual way, but to open ourselves to the power of life itself. How often do we enjoy the beauty of a single blossom or blade of grass during a stroll, the appreciation of 80,000 heartbeats per day? How often do we allow a sense of wonder to envelope our minds, leaving us dumbstruck? And how would we feel when suffering illness and loss if we held to the notion of an empty universe; a universe built of only stars and planets? God is the reason that the Jewish People remains alive beyond too many episodes of destruction. Admittedly, we yearn to see God, just as Abram desired in this week’s Parshah. Instead of expecting God to show up on our terms, let us patiently reorient ourselves and walk towards God, by ‘doing justice and loving kindness.’ According to Micah, the author of Ahavas Chesed’s guiding principle it’s a good way of starting to find God.