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Home From the Rabbi From the Rabbi - March 2011
From the Rabbi - March 2011 PDF Print E-mail

Dear Friends:

As I write these words, I am just a week before the departure of our tour group for Israel.  Over the last several months, I have had repeated conversations with both members of our own congregation and some of the non-Jews who will be with us.  One consistent theme is that some of the travelers hope that they will have a spiritual experience in the Holy Land, that they will have some kind of new awareness of God.

I know that this aspiration is held out, particularly to those who are going to visit the Western Wall of Herod’s temple in Jerusalem.  I have seen videos and heard testimonies of people who have approached the Wall and who have had, what they describe, as transformative experiences.

For a person who does have such an experience, it’s wonderful and it’s real.  But it does not happen for everyone, at least not in the same way.  Some people are repelled by the unremitting orthodoxy surrounding this site, and the demand of the ultras that there is only one way to pray.  Others are equally turned off by the misogyny of the Wall’s custodians – women are strictly limited and segregated.

A day or two ago, I drove up Shoreline Blvd., from town and passed the First United Methodist Church.  Their new neon billboard advertised a shining “Rock and Worship” event.  Out at Bay Area Fellowship, a variety of bands and styles of popular music entertain and, perhaps, inspire the faithful.  Maybe, I thought, it is not the stillness of the stones in Jerusalem and their black-clad guardians that conveys the reality of God, but the concussive blare and swaying of contemporary religious and even secular music.  Maybe God is more likely to be found in the jukebox than in the sanctuary.

On Friday night, March 18, we shall celebrate the Jewish holiday of Purim.  Is it possible that one might find God amid the revelry and silliness of that festival?  How ironic it would be if God were to become apparent in the midst of the reading of the Megillah, the book of Esther, a volume that almost did not gain admission into the canon of Holy Scripture.  Why?  Because Esther never mentions God, prayer or religion.  It is a totally secular folk-tale that was ultimately accepted into the Bible because “after all, a miraculous rescue like this could only have happened as part of a divine plan.”

Maybe God is at the Wall or in the sound of the rock band or at the Purim celebration – or maybe at any number of other venues.  Or perhaps the path of biblical Elijah (I Kings 19:9ff) offers the most effective guidance.  Fleeing into the desert from King Ahab and Queen Jezebel, the prophet was told that God is not in the strong wind, nor in the earthquake nor in a consuming fire.   God for Elijah appeared most powerfully in “a still small voice,” inside his own mind and his own heart.

I find the advice of the prophet Isaiah to be the most helpful in this matter.  He said: “Seek the Lord at any time that He may be found; call upon Him whenever He is near.”  There are obviously many different times and places, many situations and conditions under which one may become intensely aware of God.  The important things to me are two: never impose limits on the possibility of becoming alert to God (because that is the equivalent of imposing limits on God – not a good idea) and always keep yourself open to a sacred experience.  Then, perhaps, when you least expect it, the presence of God will become a reality in your life.  I pray for this blessing for each of you.


            Kenneth D. Roseman, Rabbi



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