Friday, August 30, 2019 /29 Av, 5779
Parashat R’eih Deuteronomy 11:26-16:17
Last Saturday morning, ten of us walked through a trail in Rolling Hills Estates. We all knew the trail would be beautiful and we prepared ourselves to be awed by the nature that surrounded us. For five minutes we walked in silence, making a conscious effort to notice the details of God’s work. Some marveled at the sight of a vine, so interestingly wrapped around a tree, an unusual looking butterfly, or a woman who had been out walking her goats.
There was something deeply profound about being in nature and allowing ourselves to experience it fully. So often in our daily life it is difficult to take time to notice the details. This one morning, at Torah on the Trails, we allowed ourselves to find the holy in the ordinary.
In this week’s Torah portion, Moses instructs us, “Look to the place that the Eternal your God will choose amidst all your tribes as God’s habitation, to establish God’s name there. There you are to go.” (Deuteronomy 12:5)
This verse could be read as saying that God exists in one particular place and it is up to us to find it. While there are inherently holy sites, such as Jerusalem, I read the verse more broadly. God is in our midst and it is our job to seek God out. 19th Century Rabbi Yehudah Aryeh Lieb points out that God chooses a place in which to dwell, but that place is not revealed to the people. This is a conscious decision. When we take the time to find the holy, we are often amazed at what we find.
In Hebrew the word for the place is Hamakom. Rabbinic tradition uses this word as one of God’s most treasured names. In so doing, they indicate that the place in the verse isn’t necessarily referring to a physical place. Rather, God is in a place in our midst where we can find awe in our surroundings. God can be found in the kind gestures between members of our community and the deepest relationships we form with family members. God can be found within ourselves and in the divine spark in our neighbor.
God can be within us or right in front of our eyes. Rabbi Yehuda Lieb explains in his commentary Sfat Emet, “A person should seek out those places, times, and souls in which holiness is revealed.” When we do, like the hikers on Torah and Trails, we may be awed and fulfilled by the connection we feel.
I wish you a Shabbat full of sacred seeking, love, and connection.
Rabbi Cassi Kail