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The Jewish Press of Tampa and the Jewish Press of Pinellas County are Independently- owned biweekly Jewish community newspapers published in cooperation with and supported by the Tampa JCC & Federation and the Jewish Federation of Pinellas & Pasco Counties, respectively. Copyright © 2009-2019 The Jewish Press Group of Tampa Bay, Inc., All Rights Reserved. 


February 8, 2019  RSS feed
Rabbinically Speaking

Text: T T T

When did we start thinking of G-d as a finite resource

By RABBI BRYAN MANN Congregation Beth Shalom, Brandon

When did we start thinking of G-d as a finite resource? My friend Ri Turner asked a group of us this question when I was studying at the Rabbinical School of Hebrew College.

It struck me deeply because it was a theology I had not realized until that moment I was struggling with. How many of us tell ourselves, “Who am I that G-d should take note of me? With so much else going on in the world why would G-d care about my minor issues?” Yet, those of us who believe in G-d often talk about G-d as infinite. If G-d is infinite, G-d can take note of all of us. G-d can care about all of us. Why is it so hard to truly believe that?

Perhaps, it is G-d’s very infinitude that makes us ask, “Why would G-d care about me?” After all it is incredibly hard to comprehend, let alone relate to Infinity. Yet, in our prayers we constantly refer to G-d as “You” “Baruch atah – Blessed are You” begins most of our prayers. We are encouraged by our prayers to come into a relationship with the Divine where we can authentically talk to G-d using the word, “You.” If our human minds cannot comprehend an Infinite Being, how are we to accomplish this?

I recently started studying Zohar with Daniel Matt, one of the leading Zohar scholars today. In our first online class he gave an overview of the sefirot. Ten manifestations of the Divine. In some ways, I see the Kabbalists through their expression of the sefirot providing one answer to this paradox.

The Kabbalist view of the Divine is as expressed above, the Divine is infinite, unknowable, beyond human comprehension. They refer to this manifestation of the divine, this sefirah as Ein sof – Without End. Ein sof is the most distant from the human world. Yet, the kabbalists tell us G-d has a desire to be known. G-d wants to enter into a relationship with humanity. So Ein sof reveals Oneself through the 10 sefirot; one of which is Shekhinah.

Shekhinah is the manifestation of the Divine that is closest to us. we can feel Her and talk to Her. Moments of awe. Moments of deep understanding. Moments where we feel G-d’s love. The kabbalists would say that is the Shekhina. According to the Talmud, it is not only in moments of joy the Shekhina is felt, but also in times of sorrow. Tractate Megillah 29a teaches that when the Israelites were exiled to Egypt the Shekhina was with them. When the Israelites were exiled to Babylonia the Shekhina was with them. Moments when we as a people experienced deep pain and suffering Jewish tradition tells us the Shekhinah was there.

I know for myself, there have been moments when the Divine presence felt incredibly distant. Time when I felt disconnected from Jewish rituals, study, and community. Times when even when participating in rituals, study, and community something just felt off. Moments when even though I was calling G-d, “You” I wondered if that You was even paying attention. The wisdom of kabbalah tells me in these moments I was relating to G-d as Ein sof; the infinite, unknowable, incomprehensible G-d that we humans have no chance of building a relationship with.

There have also been moments where it has felt like every conversation, I had with someone, even about the most mundane things, gave me new insight into the world. Where a simple walk outside led to moments of profound wonder. When Jewish prayer, study, and desire to be a part of Jewish community was as natural to me as my need to eat. In these moments calling G-d, You felt like I was talking with a beloved friend. I deeply feel the presence of the Shekhina as the Kabbalists would say.

“When did we start thinking of G-d as a finite resource?” Perhaps in an ironic twist it was when we learned of G-d’s infinitude. After all, why would Infinity care about little old me. Despite our Jewish prayers inviting us into a relationship with G-d where we constantly refer to the Divine as, “You” it can still be incredibly hard to feel this in a deep way. Kabbalah invites us to acknowledge that yes there is a manifestation of G-d that is infinite and unknowable. At the same time there is a manifestation of G-d that is always radically present.

Rabbinically Speaking is published as a public service by the Jewish Press in cooperation with the Tampa Rabbinical Association which assigns the column on a rotating basis.

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