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We are all familiar with chai, the Hebrew word for life. Chai has a numeric value of eighteen, which is why it is common for Jews to donate to charity in multiples of eighteen. The Talmud tells us that charity saves us from premature death.[1] When we donate in multiples …

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Home » Free Choice, The Jewish Faith, Vaeirah

Vaera: Where is G-d?

Submitted by on January 8, 2013 – 3:32 amNo Comment | 1,091 views

G-d is You

As a child I recall walking with my father one morning while he was telling my older brothers that nothing exists outside of G-d. In fact, he said, G-d is in everything. He is the flower, the street, the car, He is even you. This captured my childish imagination and I asked, is that a fact, am I G-d? No, he replied, you are not G-d, G-d is you.

This happened nearly thirty-five years ago, but it never left me because even then the statement made a deep impression. What am I? I am nothing, but for G-d. G-d is me and everything else too.

There are times when I stand at a crossroads with a decision to make. Will I do what pleases me or what pleases G-d? Will I sleep in or get up and pray, will I give to the poor or keep my money to myself, will I gossip or respect my neighbor’s privacy. These are always tough questions to answer, but there is a reason they are tough. It is because I choose to ignore that G-d is really me. The very notion that I can choose between G-d’s wishes and mine suggests that there is me and then there G-d. If I really thought about it I would see that there is only G-d. If G-s is all that exists, what choice is there?

Yet, G-d gave me choice. He disguised Himself in a way that allows me to think that I am my own person with my own interests and needs. Within that illusion He wanted me to carve out a reality in which I can ostensibly choose between what is mine and what is His. It is the reality of illusion, but the one he wanted me to live. And within this illusory reality He wanted me to recall that it is all Him.

He wanted me to have choice and He wanted me to Choose Him. Another way of putting it, He wanted me to choose the attitude that it is all Him. He wants me to choose the real reality, not the illusory one.

Therein lays the rub. Knowing what I know, it is now impossible for me to pretend that I don’t know it. I can choose the illusion that pits my needs against G-d’s, gives me options and free choice, but in my heart of hearts I know the truth. If I choose to defy G-d’s wishes, I establish the greatest irony in existence. where is g-d? - innerstreamNamely, I take a part of G-d (not that G-d is divisible) and pit it against G-d. It is like dunking the king’s head and royal crown into a cesspool. Can you imagine a greater offense than that?

I can act as if I am merely indulging my own choices, but deep down I know, that I am not me, G-d is me and my choices force G-d [1] to act against His own wishes. This knowledge is empowering. Remembering this ironic truth helps me steer clear of any wrongdoing. It helps me remember that this is not just about me, it is about G-d, who at the moment is disguised as me. It is about treating Him with reverence and respect.

The Serpent and The Staff

This helps us understand the first miracle that G-d instructed Moses to perform before Pharaoh. This particular miracle did not punish the Egyptians, but it did teach them a lesson. G-d instructed Moses to tell Aaron to throw his staff to the ground before Pharaoh and the staff would turn into a serpent. The Egyptian necromancers followed suit and transformed their own staffs into serpents, but Aaron’s serpent reverted into a staff and swallowed the serpents whole.[2]

There was certainly a message in this miracle, but what was it? The Torah doesn’t interpret this episode and obviously expects us figure it out. We are fortunate to have received insight from the great minds of our forbearers and from Jewish mystics who taught the concealed dimension of this Biblical episode.[3]

The serpent is an allusion to Pharaoh as the prophet said,” the great serpent who lounges in his river.”[4] Pharaoh, denied the existence of G-d and defied G-d’s command to free the slaves. This was a classic showdown between human and G-d, where G-d instructed and Pharaoh had other interests.

Just like I want the extra money for myself and don’t want to heed G-d’s Instructions to share it with the poor so did Pharaoh want the benefit of free slaves and didn’t want to let the Hebrews go. Though this particular showdown impacted the destiny and freedom of an entire people, when you break it down you find that it is similar to every crossroad between us and G-d.

The difference between Pharaoh and us is that we don’t require ten plagues to force us into submission. However, before G-d began to break down Pharaoh’s, resistance He delivered a message. You think there is G-d and you. Worse, you think there is only you. Know that the opposite is true. There is only G-d. You are the one that doesn’t exist. What appears to be a serpent is actually a staff.

The staff is a symbol of G-d’s presence in this world. Moses performed his miracles with a staff. In fact, the shape of the staff is a vertical line that stands upright. The whole of the world is a reflection of a higher reality; it is a mirror image of G-d. At the top end of the vertical pole is a clear perception of G-d’s absolute oneness, at the lower end of the pole this perception becomes vague and is sometimes forgotten. However, forgotten or not, the truth doesn’t change. What is at the bottom of the pole comes from the top. It might turn into a serpent, a slimy and slithering creature that lounges in its river and denies the existence of G-d, yet even as it appears to be a serpent, it is really a staff.

The staff turned into a serpent to remind the Egyptians that they are at essence fragments of the Divine. The serpent reverted into a staff and swallowed the other serpents to teach them that even serpents can return to their original mindset and be absorbed by the perception that all is G-d. They can be swallowed whole by this perception and realize that they are not themselves. They are nothing, but G-d.

This message rings true even today. Our perception of self is akin to the fear we feel while watching a cinematic horror film. It is possible to experience horror, but in the back of the mind we know that when the film ends the danger disappears. So too is it possible to experience ego, but should we receive even a glimmer of G-d’s truth, our ego would dissolve and disappear.

In the end, life is not life without G-d. If G-d would not breathe creative energy into us at every moment we simply would not exist. Every thought, every word, every action and every breath is fueled and driven by G-d. In the end, it is never G-d and us and surely never G-d against us. There is only G-d. The rest is just commentary. Go and learn.

 



[1] In a manner of speaking of course for nothing forces G-d’s hand if He does not will it.

[2] Exodus 7: 8-12.

[3] Torah Or, Vaera, 56b.

[4] Ezekiel 29: 3.

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