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


) God's kingdom, which is indeed everywhere." The Sefat Emet is not suggesting that we have to become theologians or theorists of divine immanence. We have, rather, to make the truth of God's immanent presence "visible"-- through our actions and our presence. The very word for exile (


), he suggests, is connected to the word for revelation (


). We are dispersed so that we render real the words we pray each day: "God's glory (presence) fills the universe."

Yehudah Leib makes a similar point in a breathtaking comment on the very beginning of the Book of Exodus. Chapter 1 begins by listing Jacob's sons by name, even though their names were enumerated at length just a few chapters ago (Genesis 46: 8-27). The commentator Rashi suggests that this repetition is a sign of divine love: On many occasions in the Torah, God compares the children of Israel to stars. And just as God calls each star by name (cf. Isaiah 40:26), so also does God repeatedly call the children of Israel by name (Rashi to Exodus 1:1). If it seems strange for Rashi to link the use of names with love, think of the variety of ways in which human beings use first names to suggest intimacy and closeness. God calls the Jewish people by name as a sign of God's profound love for them. Notice that God calls them individually, thus making the crucial point that God's love is not only for the Jewish people as a collective but also for each of them individually.

The Sefat Emet takes the metaphor of Jews as stars much further. He suggests that the purpose of a Jew is like the purpose of a star--to bring light into the darkest places of the world. Just as each star has its own name, each Jew has his own unique light to bring.

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