It is understandable that so many carry a childlike perception of God. I fall into this trap too sometimes. It’s easy to do. After all, we are taught early on of a God that we can relate to and comprehend. Often this God is an older man with a long beard, seated on a throne with a scepter in hand. Sometimes it means a face in the clouds or a voice that echoes from the woods. We learn these versions of God when we are young and the nuances of theology would probably be lost on us.
It saddens me that there are people who never grow from these understandings of God. They never give themselves the space to explore a gracious and complex sense of the Divine. Maybe they even cease to practice Judaism outright because this remedial version of God that they were taught feels trite or diminished. I get it.
I would love to challenge us to deepen our sense of and connection to the Eternal One. I personally am moved by Martin Buber’s conception of I-Thou, which connotes holy partnership. I am also drawn to Abraham Joshua Heschel’s teachings on radical amazement, which have us open our eyes to the grandeur all around. There are other theologians I esteem as well, including Elie Wiesel, who always urged a Judaism predicated on hopefulness.
Just as the Israelites will, over their forty-year trek through the wilderness, evolve from being the Children of Israel to the People of Israel, so must we think deeply about our adult relationship with God. This is a tough ask, especially as we so value the intellect, analysis, and the black-and-white truths offered by science, engineering and math. Exploring one’s relationship with God is about examining another side of ourselves: spirituality, faith, and belief.
In this week’s Torah portion, Vetchanan, we find that the Israelites and God are now partners through and through. As Rabbi Mordechai Silverstein teaches: ‘With the changing of the guard and entry into the promised land, governance of the world would be by way of a partnership between God and human beings. Human decisions and responsibility and the building of God’s society on earth would become the most tangible sign of a world built along with God. Moshe’s departure turned the children of Israel from children into adults.’
To be God’s partner brings great responsibility. We are not gazing wistfully at a distant king on a throne, waiting for this God to solve our problems, but aligning ourselves firmly with a sacred cause. To be an ambassador of God on earth means bringing greater equity, fairness, and peace to our world. It means feeding the hungry, lifting up the fallen, extending a hand to the marginalized, speaking out against hate and cruelty.
It is a daunting task, but also an incredibly empowering one for us and our kids. We have it in us – every one of us – to create change, create joy, and create a greater sense of compassion all around us.