Reaching Out and Up

We are in touch with the doctor when there is a medical need. We call on an electrician when there’s a problem in the house. It’s almost March—did you call the accountant yet? 

What about G-d? When do you reach out and up to G-d? Almost everyone thinks of G-d in trying times of death and illness. What about at joyous times of birth and celebration? Is G-d called upon then? And what about those run-of-the mill Tuesdays when there’s nothing special going on: no big sports games, meetings, or presentations? How does reaching out to G-d, and G-d awareness fare then? There is a verse in this week’s Parsha that reflects this very idea.

In Parshat Behaalotecha, Numbers 9:18 it states in the Torah:

עַל־פִּ֣י יְוָ֗ה יִסְעוּ֙ בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל וְעַל־פִּ֥י יְוָ֖ה יַחֲנ֑וּ כׇּל־יְמֵ֗י אֲשֶׁ֨ר יִשְׁכֹּ֧ן הֶעָנָ֛ן עַל־הַמִּשְׁכָּ֖ן יַחֲנֽוּ׃

With the direction of G-d the Israelites traveled onwards from their encampment, and with the direction of G-d they established a new encampment: they remained encamped as long as the cloud stayed over the Tabernacle.  

The verse states that both at the onset of each of the 42 journeys the Israelites travelled in the desert, the journeys began with the movement of the “Clouds of Glory,” and that at the conclusion of the journeys, camp was set up wherever the “Clouds of Glory” stopped. It was the original GPS system in biblical times.

Rabbeinu Bahya ben Asher ibn Halawa (1255–1340) of Spain comments on this verse and asks why the Torah reiterates “with the direction of G-da second time. It would seem that simply saying, “With the direction of G-d the Israelites departed from camp and started camp anew,” would have been sufficient. It seems there is an additional layer of meaning to be understood here as well.

Indeed, Rabbeinu Bahya explains that the two mentions of G-d represent G-d’s involvement in our lives during volatile times, such as war and unrest, as well as during placid and restful times. G-d oversees the world 24 hours, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. G-d is with us when we wake up and when we go to sleep. G-d is in the kitchen, the office, the boardroom – He is with us wherever we are. It is our task to recognize G-d in all of these spaces.

There is a well-known tale of the Chassid who asked his Rebbe, “Rebbe, where is G-d?” The Rebbe answered sagaciously, “Wherever you look for Him.”

When we pray, we pray to G-d. When dealing with life and death issues, we think of     G-d. Numbers  9:18 indicates that in the everyday pursuits in life: our comings and goings, when shopping and schmoozing, G-d is right there as well. 

May we merit a life that is G-d centered and thereby filled with divine blessings.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Epstein

Community Scholar in Residence