God's Presence in the Darkest Moments

God's appearance in a burning bush teaches us to be present with and provide comfort to all who suffer.

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). This is one of the most fundamental--and radical--claims of the Jewish tradition, one that the Jewishpeople will have to learn and teach the world.

It isthis very insight that Jacob had discovered throughthe revelation of God in that "certain place," namelythat, "God is in this place, but I did not know it"(Genesis 28:16). Now it is Moses' turn to learnJacob's--Israel's--lesson, the fact of God's totalpresence in every place and at all times.

But Judaism is less concerned with theologicalabstractions than with lived religious realities. Sothe Jewish people are entrusted not merely withtelling the world about God's presence, but also, andmore critically, with making it manifest in the world.


Thus, it is not enough simply to state that Godsuffers with those who are in pain. Rather, we areobligated to be present with, and to bring comfort to,those who suffer, and thus to serve as the"manifesters" of God's love in the world.

To tellsomeone who is hurting that God is present in theirpain can be less than helpful; to demonstrate that sheis not alone by doing what God would have us do andloving her as she hurts--this is the deepesttheological testimony we can offer. There can be loveeven in the lowest of places, and even amidst aseemingly endless array of thorns. And where we makethat love real, there we make God present.

Rabbi Yehudah Leib Alter of Ger, the "Sefat Emet,"goes so far as to interpret the exile of the Jewishpeople along these very lines. God disperses theJewish people to the four corners of the earth inorder that we "make visible (




) God'skingdom, which is indeed everywhere." The Sefat Emetis not suggesting that we have to become theologiansor theorists of divine immanence. We have, rather, tomake the truth of God's immanent presence "visible"--through our actions and our presence. The very wordfor exile (


), he suggests, is connected to theword for revelation (


). We are dispersed sothat we render real the words we pray each day: "God'sglory (presence) fills the universe."

Yehudah Leib makes a similar point in a breathtakingcomment on the very beginning of the Book of Exodus. Chapter 1 begins by listing Jacob's sons by name, eventhough their names were enumerated at length just afew chapters ago (Genesis 46: 8-27). The commentator Rashi suggeststhat this repetition is a sign of divine love: Onmany occasions in the Torah, God compares the childrenof Israel to stars. And just as God calls each starby name (cf. Isaiah 40:26), so also does Godrepeatedly call the children of Israel by name (Rashito Exodus 1:1). If it seems strange for Rashi to linkthe use of names with love, think of the variety ofways in which human beings use first names to suggestintimacy and closeness. God calls the Jewish peopleby name as a sign of God's profound love for them. Notice that God calls them individually, thus makingthe crucial point that God's love is not only for theJewish people as a collective but also for each ofthem individually.

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